Kids and Culture: Dia de Los Muertos

I remember often being confused and even a little uncomfortable by the seeming morbidity of Dia de Los Muertos in the past. I didn’t get it. Then came the popularity of sugar skulls and Disney’s Coco and I started to warm to it… At least in the aesthetic sense. Skeletons don’t have to be scary; they can actually be beautiful. So jumping on the bandwagon I picked up this sugar skull cookie kit at Target and decided to make a little cultural evening for us. However, the significance of the celebration hadn’t sunk in.

Though the actual Day of the Dead is November 2nd, we celebrated on an October evening when we had a little extra time. First we set up our ofrenda (an alter with offerings for our loved ones that have passed on). Because I didn’t prepare in advance we stuck with just four family members (including our cat) that we had pictures of and were closest to, but in the future we will put more effort into collecting pictures of more family members that we want to honor and remember. I found the decor at Target and Trader Joe’s, and it was fun to add a little cultural flair to the ofrenda but my favorite part was the marigold plant that holds so much meaning in the celebration. Marigolds are believed to lead the dead to the alters with their vibrant color and pungent smell. (And Disney’s Coco makes them absolutely magical!)

Once the ofrenda was done we plated dinner (unauthentic but still delicious, Bobby Salazar’s) and sat down at the table together. This was where the depth of the celebration hit. As we ate we talked about our deceased loved ones. It occurred to Rob and I that we rarely find the opportunity to talk to the kids about Rob’s mom (the kids’ Nona) that passed away while I was pregnant with Kellan. This provided the chance to share our memories of her with the kids. They had so many questions and really seemed excited to learn more about their family. We also shared about our grandparents and Kellan got to share his memories of our cat, Rocco. The conversation was emotional at times but it felt so good and so important to remember and talk about these people and pets that meant so much to us. This holiday that had once seemed morbid now was so rich with meaning and sentiment. I get it… and I LOVE IT!

After dinner we got to decorating our cookies. (These were not delicious, but they were easy and fun. I think next year I’ll bake and pick up our own icing and sprinkles). We each ate one and then left the other cookies symbolically on the ofrenda.

Finally, we got in our pjs and headed for the couch to watch Coco. Last year the kids responded to this movie with mixed reviews… a little scared of the skeletons and the theme. This year, we were all enthralled. It held so much more meaning and depth and the kids (especially Kellan) LOVED IT!

If celebrating the dead is something you don’t typically do, I highly recommend giving it a go this Halloween season! We will definitely be making this an annual tradition. Here is more info and ideas on ways to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos .

If you do celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, leave a comment with your favorite ways to remember and honor your loved ones!

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