“Follow me, you need to see something special. All the world is made of stories and all of those stories are right here in The Book of Life. But the greatest story begins on the Day of the Dead, a day when spirits pass between worlds and anything can happen.” – Mary Beth the teacher in The Book of Life
At midnight on October 31, Mexico’s most colourful, and most famous, festival officially starts. El Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an annual celebration held to honour and remember those who have died. It’s a very vibrant festival, as well as being very moving, a celebration of life that we could all learn something from.
Read more about how this very traditional festival is still celebrated today here.
For kids, this is a very fun festival as well as an important one. It’s a way for them to learn about death and to understand that it can be something to be celebrated rather than feared. There are lots of ways that you can introduce your children to Día de Muertos, the following are ten of our favourite activities.
1) Watch The Book of Life
- 1 1) Watch The Book of Life
- 2 2) Read Día de Los Muertos & Rosita y Conchita
- 3 3) Take a Virtual Journey with Oy Mexico
- 4 4) Colour a Calavera
- 5 6) Sing a Catchy Song!
- 6 7) Bake Pan de Muertos
- 7 8) Make Tissue Marigolds
- 8 9) Colour Papier Mache Skulls
- 9 10) Build an Ofrenda
“The world keeps spinning, and the tales keep turning, and people come and people go, but they’re never forgotten. And the one truth we know, it held true one more time… That love, true love, the really, really good kind of love never dies”. – La Muerte in The Book of Life
This 2014 animated 3D movie tells the tale of two men in love with the same woman. Things get complicated when La Muerte, Queen of the Land of the Remembered and Xibalba, the dark ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, notice the battle between the two suitors and place a bet on who will win. Xibalba doesn’t play fair, however, and consequently sends one of the suitors, Manolo, on a journey into the underworld. It’s a fantastic movie, filled with colour and wonderful animation. It’s also a brilliant introduction to the Día de Muertos festival.
2) Read Día de Los Muertos & Rosita y Conchita
We have yet to read Día De Los Muertos ourselves but recently stumbled upon this recommendation (and giveaway!) from Samantha at Have Sippy Will Travel. The story tells the tale of the children in a Mexican pueblo (town) getting ready for the Day of the Dead celebrations; hanging papel picado, decorating altars with marigolds and candles and eating pan de muertos.
Another book that comes recently recommended is Rosita y Conchita, a beautifully illustrated story about a little girl, Conchita, who is preparing an altar to remember her twin, Rosita, who died. It will tug at your heart strings but it is also really lovely and happy. The text is in both English and Spanish.
3) Take a Virtual Journey with Oy Mexico
Oy Mexico is an interactive app for kids that tells the sweet story of a little boy who remembers his late grandfather on Day of the Dead. Join him as he visits the cemetery for a happy surprise!
When we last checked this app was free but do check before downloading as this might have changed.
4) Colour a Calavera
Above: From Colouring Castle
Above: From Colouring Castle
Above: available from Usborne.
Calaveras (skulls) are one of the most famous symbols of the Day of the Dead. Decorative sugar skulls, topped with coloured icing, can be seen everywhere in the lead up to the holiday. But rather than being scary, these are colourful and happy!
6) Sing a Catchy Song!
Guaranteed to get your kids singing about losing their heads all day long is this catchy Day of the Dead song accompanied by a fun video filled with gangly skeletons!
7) Bake Pan de Muertos
Food plays an incredibly important part over the festival and one of the most popular foods is pan de muertos, ‘bread of the dead’. This is a sweet bread flavoured with orange and anise that is covered in sugar. ‘Bone’ shapes cross the dough. It’s said that the dead partake of the spirit of the food, while the living enjoy the physical treats at the cemetery.
This video tutorial by Presley’s Pantry caught our eye! You can also get her recipe on her blog.
8) Make Tissue Marigolds
Cempasuchils, otherwise known as flores de muertos or Mexican Marigolds can be seen literally everywhere in Mexico throughout the month of October. Their colour is thought to represent the colour and light of the Sun that Aztecs believed would guide dead souls along the right path.
9) Colour Papier Mache Skulls
If you can find papier mache skulls that are ready to paint then draw decorating inspiration from this blog post at Kids World Citizen. If not, then this tutorial will take you through the (very lengthy!) process. Perfect if you’re looking to keep the kids busy for a few hours or more!
10) Build an Ofrenda
Ofrendas, or altars, play a principle part in Day of the Dead celebrations. Families will create an ofrenda in their homes in memory of their loved ones. Each ofrenda is different and personal but common elements include cempasuchils, photos of the deceased, brightly coloured papel picado (delicate paper cut outs) and favourite foods of their loved ones. Miniature ceramic figures of food or hobbies that the dead might have enjoyed are placed on the altar as well.
Is there anyone you admire who you and the kids will be celebrating on the Day of the Dead?
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For more ideas on travelling in Mexico with kids, visit our Family Guide to Mexico