Kids mark Mexican holiday - Catholic Courier

Kids mark Mexican holiday

AUBURN — The Day of the Dead recently came alive for students at St. Joseph’s School, where the seventh- and eighth-graders celebrated the Mexican holiday with a Nov. 2 fiesta.

The Day of the Dead — or Dia de los Muertos — is traditionally celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2, so the holiday coincides with the Christian celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. On these days, Mexicans remember and celebrate the lives of family members and loved ones who have passed away, said Margaret Liberatore, Spanish teacher at St. Joseph’s.

“Mexicans believe that death is just a part of life, just another stage of the life cycle. During the Days of the Dead, they focus on remembering their dead relatives,” Liberatore said.

Liberatore’s students spent the weeks leading up to the Day of the Dead learning about the holiday’s history and customs. Many of the students were surprised to learn that Mexicans do not mourn their dead during this holiday. Instead, the holiday is a festive time, and Mexicans celebrate and honor their deceased loved ones with music, flowers, food and other items.

“It’s happy, and they’re always smiling. It’s not sad,” said eighth-grader Meghan Sullivan.

Many people even spend the night of Nov. 1 in the cemetery, she said. They don’t spend the night weeping by the graves, however, added classmate Mitchell Ringwood.

“It’s like a party with music and food around family members’ graves,” Mitchell said.

Many Mexicans will place flowers and the deceased loved ones’ favorite items on headstones or on small altars set up in their houses, Meghan added.

During the Day of the Dead, Mexicans traditionally eat pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, Liberatore said. Loaves of this sugary bread are often baked in the shapes of skulls, and the loaves enjoyed by Liberatore’s students were no exception. Seventh-grader Katie Bachman, who baked one of the loaves using a recipe from Liberatore, said the recipe called for seeds, a special kind of milk and “very different kinds of ingredients you wouldn’t normally use.”

In art class the students constructed traditional skeleton masks and in Spanish class made animated paper-doll skeletons called calacas. The masks are traditionally made to resemble deceased family members and are another way of honoring and remembering the dead, said seventh-grader Stephen Moore. The students made their masks by first covering their faces with aluminum foil and molding the foil to their faces. They then took the foil masks off, covered them with papier m{a-circumflex}ch{e-acute} and later painted the masks, Stephen said.

The decorated calacas were numbered, lettered and lined up along the wall for the fiesta. Although they’d all been made from the same pattern, the students decorated each calaca in a unique way. Stephen’s calaca was dressed in a black and red magician’s cloak and top hat, while Katie’s sported a wedding dress and veil and carried a small bouquet of flowers.

“It’s all about them looking alive,” Liberatore said. Calacas are meant to show the deceased having a good time and doing the things they did while they were alive, she added.

When the students had finished their pan de muerto, Mexican hot chocolate and bone-shaped candy, Liberatore asked them to look at the calacas and vote for the ones they thought were the liveliest, funniest, happiest and best.

Mitchell’s calaca, which had a shock of fuzzy hair and was doing a split, was voted the liveliest of the eighth-grader’s calacas. Eighth-grader Aiden Guinnip’s calaca, which wore a baseball cap and was playing an electric guitar, was voted best in the class. Among the seventh-graders’ paper skeletons, a salsa-dancing calaca was voted the liveliest, and Katie’s bride calaca took the prize for being the happiest.

The funniest seventh-grade calaca, which had thick brown braids and wore a white sweater and skirt decorated with red beads, was described by one of the students as “a wooly mammoth wearing a sweater.” There was a three-way tie for the best seventh-grade skeleton doll, and the winners comprised two angel calacas and a groom calaca wearing a pink pin-striped suit and top hat.

Although skulls and skeletons are a major theme of Day of the Dead, they are not meant to scare people, Katie said.

“It’s just to celebrate the dead that they loved,” she said.

The theme of death makes this holiday a little like Halloween, except that it is happier and less gory, said eighth-graders Billy Scala and Greg DiMatteo.

“It’s not really like a sad time. It’s like Halloween, but nothing is gory,” Billy said.

Although Day of the Dead does remind her of Halloween, eighth-grader Kim Garafalo said the Mexican holiday is also a little bit like Valentine’s Day.

“Everyone is cheerful and caring for each other,” she said.

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