Celebrating Day of the Dead at Derryfield

Celebrating Day of the Dead at Derryfield

Elaine Loft

Derryfield regularly celebrates Halloween with a joyful parade of costumes, but this year students in both the middle and upper school Spanish I classes also commemorated the Mexican holiday, el Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. El Día de los Muertos is typically observed on November 1st and November 2nd. 

The students worked in groups to research the lives of well-known persons of Hispanic origin, including Roberto Clemente, Celia Cruz, Pablo Picasso and Gabriel García-Márquez. Each class was tasked with constructing an ofrenda, an altar offering, built to represent someone that has passed away. Once students knew the history and background of their subjects, they were able to plan which objects were needed for their class ofrenda. Ofrendas traditionally include items that represent the four elements–water, wind, earth, and fire. In addition, objects representing the personal life of the deceased are also included. In Mexico, ofrendas often include sugar and chocolate skulls, marigolds, and Pan de Muerto, traditional sweet bread prepared for the holiday.

The ofrendas were constructed by the four classes on November 1st and 2nd. On November 3rd, the Spanish III students were called in to view the altars, and to judge which ofrenda was the most “creative and authentic.” 

During the festivities, students had the opportunity to build, design and prepare the class ofrenda, decorate calaveritas de azúcar, sugar skulls, learn how to make papel picado, tissue paper garland decorations and the could get their face or hand painted with a skeleton’s image. 

An 8th grade student, Kai Yue, highlighted the experience by saying “I like being with people and helping paint faces, I can see why Día de los Muertos is a community-based holiday”.

Spanish Teacher, Kath Ryzewski, reflects on the experience, “I am proud of the hard work and creativity the students demonstrated when building their ofrendas.  The students embraced the essence of the holiday and made deeper connections to a cultural practice that has been celebrated for centuries.”

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