I have these Day of the Dead books in my classroom and have seen how my students get motivated to look at them to read and look at the art. In the elementary Spanish program at the school where I teach, the Day of the Dead is one of the cultural explorations we do to help our students to understand what this celebration means to many communities in Mexico. We are not celebrating it, but we aim to show appreciation of a tradition that’s important to another culture. The Day of the Dead is not related to Halloween. The Day of the Dead is a two-day celebration to remember loved ones who have passed away. This is a happy and colorful celebration. Here are my five top book picks:
Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead has a beautiful story that shows the importance of Monarch butterflies in this celebration. In some places in Mexico, it is believed that these butterflies carry the souls of loved ones who have passed away.
I feel that these next two books need teachers to provide a little bit of background about this celebration before sharing them with the children.
Clatter Bash!: A Day of the Dead Celebration is a vivid book! There is not much text, but it’s great to use to describe the pictures. The illustrations will keep your students engaged. At the end of the book there is plentiful information about the Day of the Dead celebration.
Last, but not least! Here is a banner to decorate your classroom!
If you explore my blog, you will find a few posts related to The Day of the Dead. This celebration takes many forms in Spanish speaking countries, and it also changes names and meanings in the different countries. In some countries, it’s just one more name on the calendar. In others, it is celebrated in some parts of the country, which is the case of Guatemala and Colombia. While in Mexico, it is an important celebration across the country that has been included by UNESCO on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
While incorporating this tradition in your curriculum, it’s important to clarify with school administrators and parents that you are not celebrating this as a holiday in your class, you are just sharing about a cultural celebration that others celebrate (i.e. you’re exploring and honoring others’ traditions, not appropriating them as your own). You might like to read the following posts. Just click on the pictures to read them all!
Every year since 1988, when President Ronald Reagan first implemented Hispanic Heritage Month, the United States recognizes September 15 to October 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a month to celebrate the different Hispanic cultures and their contributions to the United States.
What a great opportunity to highlight the diversity of the different Spanish Speaking countries! Here are some recommended resources for elementary Spanish:
This is a short traditional poem that is perfect to teach a little bit of geography of the Spanish speaking countries, and also numbers from 1 to 10.
Use a map to locate Perú. If you have technology at handy, take a virtual trip to Perú using Google Earth. You can find pictures and short videos about Perú. Make sure you prepare in advance, and choose the material you would like to share with your students.
This poem is also used to jump the rope! You can challenge your students to count beyond number ten. It can also be used as a cooperative game to learn names. See videos below!
“El Sombrero Vueltiao is the hat that has come to represent Colombia as a symbol. I feel strongly connected to this symbol because my parents are both from the Atlantic Coast of Colombia, and although I was born and raised in Cali, I was always surrounded by the Sombrero Vueltiao, las abarcas (traditional sandals) and all the flavors from the Coast: suero, pescado seco (dried fish), yuca (cassava), and more. I have memories of listening to Vallenatos everyday at home with my parents who loved to host simple fiestas on Saturdays with some other Costeños and neighbors.
Sombreros are a big part of the rural Colombian culture and the different festivals and carnivals around the country. There is a sombrero for everything, and they all look different. Some of the sombreros are engrained in particular cultures, which is the case of the Guambianopeople in the Cauca Department who have a very special bowler hat. This said, not everyone wears sombreros in Colombia, so don’t get disappointed if you ever visit and don’t see any sombreros.
Since the Sombrero Vueltiao has also become an icon in attempts (which has been pretty successful!) to attract tourists, I am sure you will at least see one sombrero and some pictures of it in Colombia.
This video below explains the history of the Sombrero Vueltiao and its meaning for the people from the Atlantic Coast of Colombia.
El Año Viejo is a common year-end tradition in Colombia and other countries in Latin America. On December 31st, everyone gets excited about the New Year and its obligatory resolutions for change. Años Viejos are used in many places to symbolically leave behind bad things from the previous year. Traditionally, this involved burning effigies full of firecrackers or pockets of gunpowder, but for safety reasons, the practice has evolved into something less spectacular but no less important. Below you can find a video of how intense and exciting this celebration can be.
The Año Viejo is now crafted as a small doll in a tin. People take small pieces of paper and write all the bad things that have happened during the year. They then burn them and the doll in the tin as a symbol of renewal.
Some towns in Colombia and Ecuador host daylight parades on December 31st to show the effort and artistic talent that has been put into making the doll before it gets burned in the middle of the night.
There is a song about not forgetting the “Año Viejo” and being grateful for the great things in life. This song was composed by Cresencio Salcedo, a Colombian songwriter and made famous by Mexican singer Tony Camargo. The song is played all over Latin America during the December celebrations and and has been danced to for over 60 years! Below is a video of the original singer who never got to meet the writer of the song.
Yo no olvido el año viejo porque me ha deja’o cosas muy buenas.
Me dejó una chiva, una burra negra, una yegua blanca y una buena suegra.
This is one of those traditions you can easily share with your students. Have them decorate their Año Viejo and have them think about what they would like to do in the future. I have a simple and fun activity where students put together their own paper “Año Viejo” and write about their goals for the new year. This resource is available on Teachers Pay Teachers. Please note that this activity doesn’t include an “Año viejo” doll.