Celebrating the Mexican Days of the Dead

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Celebrating the Mexican Days of the Dead

  1. 1. The Mexican Celebration of the Days of the Dead/ Los Dias De Los Muertos Nancy Walkup nwalkup@netzero.net www.slideshare.net/nwalkupAre there any artworks, artists, or cultural traditions that you would like to include inyour curriculum but have not because of trepidations about sensitive subjects? Can youthink of any examples? Kachina dolls and totem poles most likely will come to mind, but,for me, the celebration of Los Dias de los Muertos, the Mexican Days of the Dead, hasmuch personal appeal.If you have already decided you have no interest in this festivity or believe that youradministration would not let you teach about it, please bear with me. Hopefully I canshare the true meanings of the celebration and suggest some usable approaches you mightwant to try in your classroom and school.The two days of Los Dias de los Muertos, the Mexican Days of the Dead, represent themost important celebration of the year in Mexico, especially in rural areas. Celebrated onthe Catholic holy days of November 1, All Saints Day, and November 2, All Souls Day,the occasion is a joyful time of remembrance, family reunion, and feasting, as relativesand friends gather together to honor their loved ones who have died. According totradition, it is believed that the souls of departed children return on November 1 and thesouls of the adults visit on November 2. While some people call this fiesta time “Day ofthe Dead,” the plural form better describes the celebration as it spans several days.Mexican families save all year to buy the flowers, candles, incense, and special foodsneeded for the festivities to properly honor their dearly departed. No expense is spared inpreparing for the Days of the Dead. Mexican families participate in the construction anddecoration of ofrendas (tabletop displays) to honor their loved ones.Decorations for the ofrenda may include candles, gifts, flowers, incense, papel picado(cut paper banners), photographs, pictures of saints (and often the Virgin of Guadalupe)and offerings of the favorite food and drink of the deceased. Mexican marigolds (calledzempascuchitl) and cock’s comb are the flowers most associated with the Days of theDead. The marigold is particularly pungent in aroma as is the copal incense that is burnedon the ofrenda and in the cemetery.Pan de los Muertos (bread of the dead), candies, and toys are made in the shapes ofcalavera (skulls and skeletons). The skeleton or skull is seen as a promise of resurrection,not as a symbol of death. Calavera toys and papier-mache skeleton figures depict specificprofessions, musicians, brides and grooms, bicycle riders, and other subjects fromeveryday life. There are rich traditions in Mexican folk art that incorporate calveras inmany ways. For example, the Linares family of Mexico City is well known for their
  2. 2. fantastic papier-mache calaveras figures.In preparation for the fiesta, tombs and gravestones in the cemeteries are cleaned, freshly-painted, and elaborately decorated by the members of the community with candles,flowers, breads, fruits, photographs, and other objects. Since the cemeteries are often inor very near a village or town, they are not seen as places separate from the community,but as part of everyday village life.Though specific practices of the Days of the Dead may vary from village to village, inmost communities the entire village holds vigil in the cemetery the nights of the Days ofthe Dead. Each family maintains a vigil around its graves - graves which are covered withlit candles and flowers, as many as a family can afford. The entire family, from oldest tonewborn, each dressed in their best clothing, keeps watch, quietly offering prayers untiltheir candles burn down in the cold night.Historical and Cultural BackgroundThe origins of Los Dias de los Muertos in Mexico date back long before the arrival of theConquistadors in the 1500s. Concepts of death and afterlife existed in the Olmec, Toltec,Maya, and Aztec cultures. When the conquering Europeans introduced Christianity to thenative cultures, its rituals and practices became synthesized with traditional indigenousbeliefs. All Saints Day and All Souls Day are holy days celebrated in all Catholiccountries, and the customs and practices of Los Dias de los Muertos developed from thisfusion.In the United States, misconceptions sometimes arise about Los Dias de los Muertosbecause of differing cultural attitudes about death, misinterpretation of the meaning ofsymbolic objects such as skeletons and skulls, and the concurrent dates of the celebrationwith Halloween. But Los Dias de los Muertos is not in any way somber, morbid, ormacabre.The United States celebration most like Los Dias de los Muertos is Memorial Day, a dayin which we also honor the dead (though the focus is on military veterans). Because ofthe rising rate of immigration to the United States of people from Mexico and LatinAmerica, the Days of the Dead have recently become a way to honor Latino traditions.In addition, many artists such as Carmen Lomas Garza have spread awareness andpopularity of the Days of the Dead through appropriated images and meanings. In manyways, these concepts have also found expression in popular culture. Think of thespontaneous offerings of flowers and objects left in public places to honor and mourn thedeaths of loved ones such as traffic accident victims, Vietnam veterans, and celebritiessuch as Princess Diana, Selena, and John and Carolyn Kennedy.Making Artist Ofrendas
  3. 3. My favorite classroom method of teaching about the Days of the Dead is through thecreation of artist ofrendas. I have found this secular approach helpful to teach studentsabout the Days of the Dead without focusing too much on the religious aspects of thecelebration. Other types of memorials could also be discussed, such as the LincolnMemorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and memorials to individuals.Though traditional ofrendas are usually found at home, in the classroom ofrendas can becreated to honor one or more artists (as I do with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera) ratherthan students relatives. Because the Days of the Dead celebrations in Mexico usuallyinclude some form (candy, food, or toys) of skeletons or skulls, it is important tounderstand that, in Mexico, the skeleton does not carry the negative meanings promotedby Hollywood. Instead, it simultaneously laughs in the face of death while serving as areminder that all people, both rich and poor, are equal in death. An ofrenda can certainlybe created without any such images if they would be problematic. Each individual teachermust decide what approach is best to respect the sensitivities of his or her students,teachers, and community.To start, divide students into groups of four to five and assign an artist to each group.Any artist will do, but if you want to use Mexican artists, some to consider are FridaKahlo, Diego Rivera, Ruffino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueros, Jose Clemente Orozco,and Tina Modotti. Have groups research the artists’ lives, collect or make items toinclude on their ofrendas, and create artworks and written passages based on the chosenartists.Use small tables for each ofrenda and have students cover them with fabrics appropriatefor the chosen artists. For example, a brightly colored oilcloth would make a great tablecover for an ofrenda to Frida Kahlo, but an off-white, sedate linen might be moreappropriate for an ofrenda to Leonardo da Vinci. Other possible items for the ofrendasinclude real or paper flowers, candles (you dont have to light them), photographs or self-portraits of the artist, reproductions of the artists work, ceramics of different kinds(bowls, candleholders, and picture frames could be made by students), favorite foods,candy, and other items that might be associated with each specific artist. Ofrendas areoften completely covered with objects, so encourage students to develop a variety ofofferings. Display the completed ofrendas as an educational exhibit with a writtenexplanation of the project and biography/biographies of the artist/s honored.SummaryAn investigation of the annual celebrations and rituals of Los Dias de los Muertos offersan opportunity for understanding the true meaning of this important cultural tradition.Learning about the true meanings of such celebrations as the Days of the Dead promotescross-cultural understanding of the commonalities shared by all people. For the Mexicanpeople, the celebration marks a reference for life, respect for death, and the philosophicalacceptance of the cycles of life. I invite you to explore Los Dias de los Muertos with yourstudents.
  4. 4. Extensions/Interdisciplinary Connections* Other non-Mexican artists that are fun to do ofrendas about (because their works are sofamiliar) are Georgia OKeeffe, Leonardo da Vinci, Grant Wood, or Picasso.* If you can locate someone who is familiar with the Days of the Dead and/or has acollection of related objects, invite them to speak to your class and/or bring anyappropriate items they may have. For example, when I speak to classes, I bring in a smalltable and a suitcase, then unwrap and assemble an ofrenda while I talk.* Use strips of white construction paper to make three-dimensional skeleton figures tohang as mobiles. With assorted colors of construction paper, add details to representspecific characters such as cowboys and cowgirls, artists, bicycle riders, football players,skateboarders, or any other figures that can be identified by clothing, hair, andaccessories.* Investigate the political cartoons of Jose Guadalupe Posada and create cartoons withsocial or political content. Skeletons can be used as the basis for figures, but encouragestudents to show interaction between figures, dress them in contemporary clothing, andmake social comments on human behavior.* Instead of using artists as the focus of the ofrendas, have students memorialize theirpets who have died, bringing in photographs to display on the ofrenda. Includephotographs and/or artworks of the dearly departed animals. Many students will havephotos of their pets they may want to display on the ofrenda and this approach may bemore acceptable to administrators and parents.ResourcesDays of the Dead Prints, 12 pieces from the collection of Nancy Walkup, CrystalProductions, www.crystalproductions.com.Days of the Dead, teachers’ guide and prints, CRIZMAC Art & Cultural Materials,www.crizmac.com.Food for the Ancestors: The Mexican Celebration of the Days of the Dead, video fromPBS Home Video.Flickering Lights: Days of the Dead, video, CRIZMAC Art & Cultural Materials,www.crizmac.com.Day of the Dead, children’s book by Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter, Harcourt Brace& Company, 1997.
  5. 5. Enduring Idea: Respect and honor for the dead and an appreciation of lifes cycles arecommon human experiences.Art Idea: Art can express respect and honor for the dead and an appreciation of lifescycles.Key Questions* How do people from different cultures express respect and honor for the dead and anappreciation of lifes cycles?* How is respect and honor for the dead and an appreciation of lifes cycles expressed inthe artifacts and customs in Mexico associated with the Days of the Dead?* What can we learn by exploring the Mexican Days of the Dead?Unit Objectives* Students will demonstrate an understanding of how the Mexican Days of the Dead reflectthe time, place, and culture in which they were created.* Students will respond to the meaning and value of Days of the Dead artifacts supportedwith persuasive reasons.* Students will communicate interpretations of Days of the Dead artifacts supported with
  6. 6. compelling reasons.* Students will draw upon universal concepts of the human experience to create artistmemorials.Recommended Resources and Materials • Days of the Dead: A Curriculum Resource, Stevie Mack, Amy Metcalfe, with consultant Nancy Walkup, a teachers guide and art prints, available from CRIZMAC Art and Cultural Educational Materials, inc., 800-913-8555 or http://www.crizmac.com. • Homenaje a Tenochititlan An Installation for the Days of the Dead by Carmen Lomas, videotape available from I. V. Studios/Elizabeth Sher, PO Box 8123, Berkeley, California, 94707-8123, 510-528-8004. • Carmen Lomas Garza’s web site, http://www.carmenlomasgarza.com/. • A Piece of My Heart/Pedacito de mi Corazon: The Art of Carmen Lomas Garza, New York: The New Press, 1991. • Making Magic Windows: Creating Papel Picado/Cut Paper Art with Carmen Lomas Garza, Children’s Book Press. • Posters and books by Carmen Lomas Garza are available from MedioDia Productions, PO Box 140304, Austin, Texas 78714-0304, mediodia@latino.com. • Mexican Papercutting, Kathleen Trenchard, North Carolina: Lark Press, 1998. • Pablo Remembers: The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead, George Ancona, New York: Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard, 1993. • Day of the Dead: A Mexican-American Celebration, Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith, New York: Holiday House, 1994. • Humorous Day of the Dead artifact images (I only use objects that are not the least bit frightening),found online at The Days of the Dead in Mexico, http://www.art.unt.edu/ntieva/artcurr/latino/index.htm. • The Days of the Dead in Mexico, http://www.art.unt.edu/ntieva/artcurr/latino/index.htm. • Reproductions and videos on Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and other artists are available from Crystal Productions, 800-255-8629, www.crystalproductions.comCarmen Lomas GarzaCarmen Lomas Garza, born in 1948, grew up in Kingsville, Texas, a small community not farfrom the border with Mexico. Ms. Garza, the second of five children, knew from an earlyage that she wanted to be an artist. Her family, especially her mother, who was also anartist, supported her dream and encouraged her efforts. Her works most often tell storiesof traditional family scenes fondly remembered from her childhood.Ms. Garzas family history is particularly rich with stories of her Spanish and Mexican-American ancestors. Her fathers family moved to Texas as a result of the MexicanRevolution and her mothers family included vaqueros (Mexican-American cowboys), railroadworkers, and a chuck wagon cook. Many share her heritage, as Mexican-Americans comprisethe largest Latino population in the United States today.
  7. 7. Ms. Garza works in a number of media, primarily painting and printmaking, and now resides inSan Francisco. She completed art education degrees in Texas universities and a studio artdegree in California. In college, Ms. Garza became involved with the Chicano movement, aneffort for political reform for Mexican-Americans and others of Latino ancestry. Like manyother artists influenced by the Chicano movement, she intends her work to foster culturalidentification and pride in others of Latina heritage, present positive images of Latinoculture, and encourage the recognition of experiences universal to people of all cultures.Ms. Garza has her own web site with images and information on ordering resources athttp://www.carmenlomasgarza.com/.The Mexican Celebration of the Days of the Dead/Los Dias de los MuertosNancy WalkupRationale and Overview of UnitLos Dias de los Muertos, the Mexican Days of the Dead, are the most important celebrations of the year inMexico, especially in rural areas. Celebrated on November 1, All Saints Day, and November 2, All SoulsDay, the occasion is a joyful time of remembrance, family reunion, and feasting, as relatives and friendsgather together to honor their loved ones who have died. Los Dias de los Muertos is not in any way somber,
  8. 8. morbid, or macabre.In the United States, misconceptions sometimes arise about Los Dias de los Muertos because of differingcultural attitudes about death, misinterpretation of the meaning of symbolic objects such as skeletons andskulls, and the concurrent dates of the celebration with Halloween. An investigation of the annualcelebrations and rituals of Los Dias de los Muertos offers an opportunity for understanding the truemeaning of this important cultural tradition. Learning about the meanings of such celebrations as the Daysof the Dead promotes cross-cultural understanding of the commonalities shared by all people. A referencefor life, respect for death, and the acceptance of the cycles of life.The United States celebration most like El Dias de los Muertos is Memorial Day, a day in which we alsohonor the dead (though we may focus more on military veterans). In the United States, the Days of theDead have also become a way to honor Latino traditions. In addition, many American artists have spreadawareness and popularity of the Days of the Dead through appropriated images and meanings. In manyways, these ideas have spread around the globe. Think of the spontaneous offerings of flowers and objectsleft in public places to honor and mourn the deaths of Vietnam veterans, and celebrities such as Selena,Princess Diana, and John and Carolyn Kennedy.Throughout this unit, suggestions will be made to assist the teacher to respect the sensitivities of students,teachers, and the community. For example, the unit proposes the creation of an ofrenda to honor one ormore artists who have died (a kind of art history lesson) rather than to students relatives. Anotheralternative is to create an ofrenda to students pets that have died. Many students will have photos of theirpets they may want to display on the ofrenda and this approach may be more acceptable to administratorsand parents. Though Days of the Dead celebrations in Mexico usually include some form of skeletons orskulls, an ofrenda can certainly be created without any of such images. Each individual teacher must decidewhat approach is best for his or her school and community.Enduring Idea of the Unit: Respect and honor for the dead and an appreciation of lifes cycles arecommon human experiences.Art Idea: Art can express respect and honor for the dead and an appreciation of lifes cycles.Key Questions* How do people from different cultures express respect and honor for the dead and an appreciation of lifescycles?* How is respect and honor for the dead and an appreciation of lifes cycles expressed in the artifacts andcustoms in Mexico associated with the Days of the Dead?* What can we learn by exploring the Mexican Days of the Dead?Unit Objectives* Students will demonstrate an understanding of how the Mexican Days of the Dead reflect the time, place,and culture in which they were created.* Students will respond to the meaning and value of Days of the Dead artifacts supported with persuasivereasons.* Students will communicate interpretations of Days of the Dead artifacts supported with compellingreasons.* Students will draw upon universal concepts of the human experience to create artist memorials.Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) Objectives, Art, 5th Grade5.1 Perception. The student develops and organizes ideas from the environment.5.2 Creative Expression. The student expresses ideas through original artworks, using a variety of mediawith appropriate skills.5.3 Historical/Cultural Heritage. The student demonstrates an understanding of art history and culture as
  9. 9. records of human achievement.5.4 Response/Evaluation. The student makes informed judgments about personal artworks and the artworksof others.Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) Objectives, Reading, 5th Grade1. The student will determine the meaning of words in a variety of written texts.2. The student will identify supporting ideas in a variety of written texts.3. The student will summarize a variety of written texts.4. The student will perceive relationships and recognize outcomes in a variety of written texts.5. The student will analyze visual information in order to make inferences and generalizations.6. The student will recognize points of view, propaganda, and/or statements of fact and opinion.Overview of LessonsLesson 1: Introduction to the Days of the Dead and the OfrendaLesson 2: Papel PicadoLesson 3: Papier Mache figuresLesson 4: Clay frames or candleholdersResources and Materials for the UnitReproductions and Teacher Guide* Days of the Dead, Stevie Mack, Amy Metcalfe, and Nancy Walkup,teachers guide and art prints, available from CRIZMAC Art and Cultural Educational Materials, inc., 800-913-8555 or http://www.crizmaccomVideotapes* Carmen Lomas Garza, available from her sister* Day of the Dead in Texas, Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio, TexasPublications* Making Magic Windows, book on Mexican papercutting by Carmen Lomas Garza, available fromCRIZMAC* Mexican Papercutting, Kathleen Trenchard, book available from CRIZMAC* A Gift for Abuelita: Celebrating the Day of the Dead, Nancy Luenn and Robert Chapman, available fromCRIZMAC* Day of the Dead, Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter, available from CRIZMAC* Pablo Remembers: The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead, George Ancona, New York: Lothrop, Lee, andShepard, 1993* Day of the Dead: A Mexican American Celebration, Diane hoyt-Goldsmith, New York: Holiday House,1994.Web Sites* The Days of the Dead in Mexico http://www.art.unt.edu/ntieva/artcurr/latino/index.htmOther* Papel picado plastic banners, available from CRIZMAC* Sugar Skull Classroom Kit, available from CRIZMAC (optional)Handouts* Student reading, Lesson 1Audiovisual Equipment* TV and VCR* Overhead projector
  10. 10. Consumable Materials* Colored tissue paper, assorted colors* Glue sticks* White kite string* ScissorsVocabularymemorialofrendacalaverapan de muertospapel picadozempascuchitl (sem pa skoo cheetl)Unit Assessment RubricobjectivesLesson 1: Introduction to the Days of the DeadLesson OverviewLesson ObjectivesCorrelated State StandardsMaterials and Resources* Days of the Dead, Stevie Mack, Amy Metcalfe, and Nancy Walkup, teachers guide and art prints,available from CRIZMAC Art and Cultural Educational Materials, inc., 800-913-8555 orhttp://www.crizmaccom* Reproductions of artworks by Mexican artists, available from Crystal Productions and other sources,especially Diego Riveras Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park* humorous Day of the Dead artifacts, if available USE OBJECTS THAT ARE NOT THE LEAST BITFRIGHTENING* Days of the Dead video, available from CRIZMAC or from PBS* Map of U.S. and MexicoPlanning and PreparationBecome familiar with the Background Information for the Teacher. Decide if you want an entire class tocreate one ofrenda, or if you want to divide students into smaller groups to each create one. Choose an artistor artists. Any artist will do, but if you want to use Mexican artists, some to consider are Frida Kahlo,Diego Rivera, Ruffino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueros, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Tina Modotti. Find asmall table or desk and an embroidered or oilcloth tablecloth that will fit it with some overlap. Look forself-portraits and other works by the chosen artists in postcard form. Other objects that might be collectedfor the ofrenda include bowls and other ceramics, candles and candle holders, vases, wrapped candy, andpaper flowers.Background Information for Teachers
  11. 11. The Days of the Dead, Los Dias de los Muertos, are the most important annual celebration in Mexico.November 1st and 2nd are a joyful time of remembrance, reunion, and feasting, as families gather togetherto honor their loved ones who have died. In the United States, misconceptions sometimes arise about theDays of the Dead because of differing cultural attitudes about death, misinterpretation of the meaning ofsymbolic object such as altars, skeletons, and skulls, and the concurrent dates of the celebration ofHalloween. For Mexicans the skeleton does not carry the negative meanings promoted by Hollywood;instead, it both laughs in the face of death and serves as a reminder that all are equal in death, both rich andpoor.Mexican families participate in the construction and decorations of ofrendas (home altars) to honor theirloved ones. Special toys and food are made in the shapes of calaveras (skeletons) for this holiday.Decorations may include candles, flowers, incense, papel picado (cut paper banners, photographs, andofferings of the favorite food and drink of the deceased. As a class project, ofrendas can be created to honora special person, such as an artist, who is no longer living. Such a secular approach may be helpful to teachstudents about the Days of the Dead without focusing too much on the religious aspects of the celebration.Other types of memorials could be discussed, such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam VeteransMemorial, and memorials to individuals.Historical and Cultural BackgroundThe origins of Los Dias de los Muertos in Mexico date back long before the arrival of the Conquistadors inthe 1500s. Concepts of death and afterlife existed in the Olmec, Toltec, Maya, and Aztec cultures. Whenthe conquering Europeans introduced Christianity to the native cultures, its rituals and practices becamesynthesized with traditional indigenous beliefs. All Saints Day and All Souls Day are holy days celebratedin all Catholic countries, and the customs and practices of Los Dias de los Muertos developed from thisfusion.In Mexican culture there is a philosophical acceptance of death as an integral part of the cycle of life.During Los Dias de los Muertos, people believe that the souls of the dead return to earth for one day of theyear - the spirits of los angelitos (children) on All Saints Day and the spirits of adults on All Souls Day.PreparationsNo expense is spared in preparing for Los Dias de los Muertos. Families participate in the construction anddecoration of ofrendas (home altars) to honor loved ones. Decorations may include candles, gifts, flowers,papel picado (cut paper banners), pictures of saints, and photographs and offerings of the favorite food anddrink of the deceased. Tombs and gravestones in the cemeteries are cleaned and freshly-painted.Pan de los Muertos (Bread of the Dead), candies, and toys are made in the shapes of calavera (skulls andskeletons). The skeleton or skull is seen as a promise of resurrection, not as a symbol of death. Calaveratoys and papier-mache figures modern dress. Popular skeleton figures depict specific profession, musicians,brides and grooms, bicycle riders, and other subjects from everyday life. There are rich traditions in folk artthat incorporate calveras in many ways. For example, the Linares family of Mexico City is well known fortheir fantastic papier-mache calaveras figures.Vocabularycalaveraofrendapan de muertospapel picadozempascuchitl (sem pa skoo cheetl)Body of the LessonDisplay the prints from the CRIZMAC Days of the Dead instructional kit and discuss. EXTENDUSE STUDENT READING
  12. 12. Begin by asking: What is a memorial? Can you name any? (Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial, etc.)What do we celebrate on Memorial Day? (military veterans primarily) Are there people in your family thatyou love who have died? How do you honor their memory? How do you celebrate their lives? Do you evervisit the cemetery on special days?Explain that the Mexican culture looks upon death as a natural part of the cycles of life and that it is veryimportant in much of Mexico to annually celebrate the lives of loved ones who have died. This celebrationtakes place every November 1 and 2 and it is called the Days of the Dead (or you can call it the Days of theDearly Departed). On the map, have a student point out the location of Mexico and the U.S. Display anddiscuss prints or actual objects from the Days of the Dead. Encourage students to ask questions and writethem down for later reference. Show part or all of the video if possible.Assign students to groups of four or five students and assign each group an artist. The students will work inthese groups to make ofrendas. Tell them they will be making tissue paper banners called papel picado,crepe paper marigolds (flowers) and calaveras (poems about the artists) over a number of days.Creating an OfrendaHave students research the artists life, collect items to include on the ofrenda, and create artworks andwritten passages based on the chosen artist. Use a small table for the ofrenda and cover it with a fabricappropriate for the chosen artist. For example, a brightly colored oil cloth would make a great table coverfor an ofrenda to Frida Kahlo, but an off-white, sedate linen might be more appropriate for an ofrenda toLeonardo da Vinci.Other Possible Items for the OfrendaAgain, make choices that express the chosen artist. Flowers, candles (you dont have to light them),photographs or self-portraits of the artist, reproductions of the artists work, favorite foods, and other itemsthat might be associated with the artist may be placed on the ofrenda. Ofrendas are often completelycovered with objects, so encourage students to develop a variety of offerings.The Celebration of the Days of the Dearly Departed/Celebration de los Dias de los MuertosNancy WalkupRationale and Overview of UnitLos Dias de los Muertos, the Mexican Days of the Dead, are the most important celebrations of the year inMexico, especially in rural areas. Celebrated on November 1, All Saints Day, and November 2, All SoulsDay, the occasion is a joyful time of remembrance, family reunion, and feasting, as relatives and friendsgather together to honor their loved ones who have died. Los Dias de los Muertos is not in any way somber,morbid, or macabre.In the United States, misconceptions sometimes arise about Los Dias de los Muertos because of differingcultural attitudes about death, misinterpretation of the meaning of symbolic objects such as skeletons andskulls, and the concurrent dates of the celebration with Halloween. An investigation of the annualcelebrations and rituals of Los Dias de los Muertos offers an opportunity for understanding the truemeaning of this important cultural tradition. Learning about the meanings of such celebrations as the Daysof the Dead promotes cross-cultural understanding of the commonalities shared by all people. A referencefor life, respect for death, and the acceptance of the cycles of life.The United States celebration most like El Dias de los Muertos is Memorial Day, a day in which we alsohonor the dead (though we may focus more on military veterans). In the United States, the Days of theDead have also become a way to honor Latino traditions. In addition, many American artists have spreadawareness and popularity of the Days of the Dead through appropriated images and meanings. In manyways, these ideas have spread around the globe. Think of the spontaneous offerings of flowers and objectsleft in public places to honor and mourn the deaths of Vietnam veterans, and celebrities such as Selena,
  13. 13. Princess Diana, and John and Carolyn Kennedy.Throughout this unit, suggestions will be made to assist the teacher to respect the sensitivities of students,teachers, and the community. For example, the unit proposes the creation of an ofrenda to honor one ormore artists who have died (a kind of art history lesson) rather than to students relatives. Anotheralternative is to create an ofrenda to students pets that have died. Many students will have photos of theirpets they may want to display on the ofrenda and this approach may be more acceptable to administratorsand parents. Though Days of the Dead celebrations in Mexico usually include some form of skeletons orskulls, an ofrenda can certainly be created without any of such images. Each individual teacher must decidewhat approach is best for his or her school and community.Enduring Idea of the Unit: Respect and honor for the dead and an appreciation of lifes cycles are commonhuman experiences.Art Idea: Art can express respect and honor for the dead and an appreciation of lifes cycles.Key Questions* How do people from different cultures express respect and honor for the dead and an appreciation of lifescycles?* How is respect and honor for the dead and an appreciation of lifes cycles expressed in the artifacts andcustoms in Mexico associated with the Days of the Dead?* What can we learn by exploring the Mexican Days of the Dead?Unit Objectives* Students will demonstrate an understanding of how the Mexican Days of the Dead reflect the time, place,and culture in which they were created.* Students will respond to the meaning and value of Days of the Dead artifacts supported with persuasivereasons.* Students will communicate interpretations of Days of the Dead artifacts supported with compellingreasons.* Students will draw upon universal concepts of the human experience to create artist memorials.Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) Objectives, Art, 5th Grade5.1 Perception. The student develops and organizes ideas from the environment.5.2 Creative Expression. The student expresses ideas through original artworks, using a variety of mediawith appropriate skills.5.3 Historical/Cultural Heritage. The student demonstrates an understanding of art history and culture asrecords of human achievement.5.4 Response/Evaluation. The student makes informed judgments about personal artworks and the artworksof others.Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) Objectives, Reading, 5th Grade1. The student will determine the meaning of words in a variety of written texts.2. The student will identify supporting ideas in a variety of written texts.3. The student will summarize a variety of written texts.4. The student will perceive relationships and recognize outcomes in a variety of written texts.5. The student will analyze visual information in order to make inferences and generalizations.6. The student will recognize points of view, propaganda, and/or statements of fact and opinion.Overview of LessonsLesson 1: Introduction to the Days of the Dead and the Ofrenda
  14. 14. Lesson 2: Papel PicadoLesson 3: Papier Mache figuresLesson 4: Clay frames or candleholdersResources and Materials for the UnitReproductions and Teacher Guide* Days of the Dead, Stevie Mack, Amy Metcalfe, and Nancy Walkup,teachers guide and art prints, available from CRIZMAC Art and Cultural Educational Materials, inc., 800-913-8555 or http://www.crizmaccomVideotapes* Carmen Lomas Garza, available from her sister* Day of the Dead in Texas, Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio, TexasPublications* Making Magic Windows, book on Mexican papercutting by Carmen Lomas Garza, available fromCRIZMAC* Mexican Papercutting, Kathleen Trenchard, book available from CRIZMAC* A Gift for Abuelita: Celebrating the Day of the Dead, Nancy Luenn and Robert Chapman, available fromCRIZMAC* Day of the Dead, Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter, available from CRIZMAC* Pablo Remembers: The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead, George Ancona, New York: Lothrop, Lee, andShepard, 1993* Day of the Dead: A Mexican American Celebration, Diane hoyt-Goldsmith, New York: Holiday House,1994.Web Sites* The Days of the Dead in Mexico http://www.art.unt.edu/ntieva/artcurr/latino/index.htmOther* Papel picado plastic banners, available from CRIZMAC* Sugar Skull Classroom Kit, available from CRIZMAC (optional)Handouts* Student reading, Lesson 1Audiovisual Equipment* TV and VCR* Overhead projectorConsumable Materials* Colored tissue paper, assorted colors* Glue sticks* White kite string* ScissorsVocabularymemorialofrendacalaverapan de muertospapel picadozempascuchitl (sem pa skoo cheetl)
  15. 15. Unit Assessment RubricobjectivesLesson 1: Introduction to the Days of the DeadLesson OverviewLesson ObjectivesCorrelated State StandardsMaterials and Resources* Days of the Dead, Stevie Mack, Amy Metcalfe, and Nancy Walkup, teachers guide and art prints,available from CRIZMAC Art and Cultural Educational Materials, inc., 800-913-8555 orhttp://www.crizmaccom* Reproductions of artworks by Mexican artists, available from Crystal Productions and other sources,especially Diego Riveras Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park* humorous Day of the Dead artifacts, if available USE OBJECTS THAT ARE NOT THE LEAST BITFRIGHTENING* Days of the Dead video, available from CRIZMAC or from PBS* Map of U.S. and MexicoPlanning and PreparationBecome familiar with the Background Information for the Teacher. Decide if you want an entire class tocreate one ofrenda, or if you want to divide students into smaller groups to each create one. Choose an artistor artists. Any artist will do, but if you want to use Mexican artists, some to consider are Frida Kahlo,Diego Rivera, Ruffino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueros, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Tina Modotti. Find asmall table or desk and an embroidered or oilcloth tablecloth that will fit it with some overlap. Look forself-portraits and other works by the chosen artists in postcard form. Other objects that might be collectedfor the ofrenda include bowls and other ceramics, candles and candle holders, vases, wrapped candy, andpaper flowers.Background Information for TeachersThe Days of the Dead, Los Dias de los Muertos, are the most important annual celebration in Mexico.November 1st and 2nd are a joyful time of remembrance, reunion, and feasting, as families gather togetherto honor their loved ones who have died. In the United States, misconceptions sometimes arise about theDays of the Dead because of differing cultural attitudes about death, misinterpretation of the meaning ofsymbolic object such as altars, skeletons, and skulls, and the concurrent dates of the celebration ofHalloween. For Mexicans the skeleton does not carry the negative meanings promoted by Hollywood;instead, it both laughs in the face of death and serves as a reminder that all are equal in death, both rich andpoor.Mexican families participate in the construction and decorations of ofrendas (home altars) to honor theirloved ones. Special toys and food are made in the shapes of calaveras (skeletons) for this holiday.Decorations may include candles, flowers, incense, papel picado (cut paper banners, photographs, andofferings of the favorite food and drink of the deceased. As a class project, ofrendas can be created to honora special person, such as an artist, who is no longer living. Such a secular approach may be helpful to teachstudents about the Days of the Dead without focusing too much on the religious aspects of the celebration.Other types of memorials could be discussed, such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans
  16. 16. Memorial, and memorials to individuals.Historical and Cultural BackgroundThe origins of Los Dias de los Muertos in Mexico date back long before the arrival of the Conquistadors inthe 1500s. Concepts of death and afterlife existed in the Olmec, Toltec, Maya, and Aztec cultures. Whenthe conquering Europeans introduced Christianity to the native cultures, its rituals and practices becamesynthesized with traditional indigenous beliefs. All Saints Day and All Souls Day are holy days celebratedin all Catholic countries, and the customs and practices of Los Dias de los Muertos developed from thisfusion.In Mexican culture there is a philosophical acceptance of death as an integral part of the cycle of life.During Los Dias de los Muertos, people believe that the souls of the dead return to earth for one day of theyear - the spirits of los angelitos (children) on All Saints Day and the spirits of adults on All Souls Day.PreparationsNo expense is spared in preparing for Los Dias de los Muertos. Families participate in the construction anddecoration of ofrendas (home altars) to honor loved ones. Decorations may include candles, gifts, flowers,papel picado (cut paper banners), pictures of saints, and photographs and offerings of the favorite food anddrink of the deceased. Tombs and gravestones in the cemeteries are cleaned and freshly-painted.Pan de los Muertos (Bread of the Dead), candies, and toys are made in the shapes of calavera (skulls andskeletons). The skeleton or skull is seen as a promise of resurrection, not as a symbol of death. Calaveratoys and papier-mache figures modern dress. Popular skeleton figures depict specific profession, musicians,brides and grooms, bicycle riders, and other subjects from everyday life. There are rich traditions in folk artthat incorporate calveras in many ways. For example, the Linares family of Mexico City is well known fortheir fantastic papier-mache calaveras figures.Vocabularycalaveraofrendapan de muertospapel picadozempascuchitl (sem pa skoo cheetl)Body of the LessonDisplay the prints from the CRIZMAC Days of the Dead instructional kit and discuss. EXTENDUSE STUDENT READINGBegin by asking: What is a memorial? Can you name any? (Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial, etc.)What do we celebrate on Memorial Day? (military veterans primarily) Are there people in your family thatyou love who have died? How do you honor their memory? How do you celebrate their lives? Do you evervisit the cemetery on special days?Explain that the Mexican culture looks upon death as a natural part of the cycles of life and that it is veryimportant in much of Mexico to annually celebrate the lives of loved ones who have died. This celebrationtakes place every November 1 and 2 and it is called the Days of the Dead (or you can call it the Days of theDearly Departed). On the map, have a student point out the location of Mexico and the U.S. Display anddiscuss prints or actual objects from the Days of the Dead. Encourage students to ask questions and writethem down for later reference. Show part or all of the video if possible.Assign students to groups of four or five students and assign each group an artist. The students will work inthese groups to make ofrendas. Tell them they will be making tissue paper banners called papel picado,crepe paper marigolds (flowers) and calaveras (poems about the artists) over a number of days.
  17. 17. Creating an OfrendaHave students research the artists life, collect items to include on the ofrenda, and create artworks andwritten passages based on the chosen artist. Use a small table for the ofrenda and cover it with a fabricappropriate for the chosen artist. For example, a brightly colored oil cloth would make a great table coverfor an ofrenda to Frida Kahlo, but an off-white, sedate linen might be more appropriate for an ofrenda toLeonardo da Vinci.Other Possible Items for the OfrendaAgain, make choices that express the chosen artist. Flowers, candles (you dont have to light them),photographs or self-portraits of the artist, reproductions of the artists work, favorite foods, and other itemsthat might be associated with the artist may be placed on the ofrenda. Ofrendas are often completelycovered with objects, so encourage students to develop a variety of offerings.MOVE TO SEPARATE LESSONS?MAKE TISSUE PAPER MARIGOLD GARLANDSWRITE CALAVERAS ABOUT ASSIGNED ARTISTMAKE ONE PAGE BIOGRAPHIES OF ARTISTS CHOSENMAKE PAPEL PICADOSummary and ClosureDisplay the completed ofrenda as an educational exhibit with a written explanation of the project andbiography/biographies of the artist/s honored. The following lessons suggest other items students can maketo further decorate the ofrenda.AssessmentExtensions/Interdisciplinary Connections* Other non-Mexican artists that are fun to do ofrendas about (because their works are so familiar) areGeorgia OKeeffe, Leonardo da Vinci, Grant Wood, or Picasso.* If you can locate someone who is familiar with the Days of the Dead and/or has a collection of relatedobjects, invite them to speak to your class and/or bring any appropriate items they may have. For example,when I speak to classes, I bring in a small table and a woven suitcase, then unwrap and assemble an ofrendawhile I talk.* Use strips of white construction paper to make three-dimensional skeleton figures to hang as mobiles.With assorted colors of construction paper, add details to represent specific characters such as cowboys andcowgirls, artists, bicycle riders, football players, skateboarders, or any other figures that can be identifiedby clothing, hair, and accessories.* Investigate the political cartoons of Jose Guadalupe Posada and create cartoons with social or politicalcontent. Skeletons can be used as the basis for figures, but encourage students to show interaction betweenfigures, dress them in contemporary clothing, and make social comments on human behavior.* Instead of using artists as the focus of the ofrendas, have students memorialize their pets who have died,bringing in photographs to display on the ofrenda.* Have students make papier mache humorous skull masks or skeletons and write and perform a skit usingthem.calavera
  18. 18. ofrendapan de muertospapel picadozempascuchitl/marigoldsStudent ReadingThe Days of the Dead/Los Dias de los MuertosThe Days of the Dead, Los Dias de los Muertos, are the most important celebration of the year in Mexico.November 1st and 2nd are a joyful time of remembrance, family reunion, and feasting, as relatives andfriends gather together to honor their loved ones who have died. The United States celebration most likeEl Dias de los Muertos is Memorial Day, a day in which we also honor the dead.In the United States, misconceptions sometimes arise about the Days of the Dead because of differingcultural attitudes about death, misinterpretation of the meaning of symbolic objects such as skeletons andskulls and the concurrent dates of the celebration with Halloween. In Mexican culture there is aphilosophical acceptance of death as an integral part of the cycle of life. For Mexicans the skeleton does notcarry the negative meanings promoted by Hollywood; instead, it both laughs in the face of death and servesas a reminder that all are equal in death, both rich and poor.For this celebration, Mexican families participate in the construction and decorations of ofrendas (tabletopdisplays) to honor their loved ones. Special toys and food are made in the shapes of calaveras (skeletons)for this holiday. Decorations may include candles, flowers, incense, papel picado (cut paper banners),photographs, and offerings of the favorite food and drink of the deceased.Student ReadingFrida KahloFrida Kahlo was born of European and Mexican descent in 1907 in the Mexico City suburb of Coyoacan, inthe blue stucco house where she died 47 years later. She was exceptionally striking; her long dark hair anddistinctive bird-wing brows arching over magnetic black eyes reflected her vibrant and adventurous nature.In 1925, at the age of 18, she was in a bus accident that injured her spine, pelvis, and foot, injuries that ledto many hospital stays, operations, and, ultimately, her death. In many ways, her art is a chronicle of herpersonal pain and strength in the face of endless medical problems. Most of Kahlos work - painted on canvas, wooden boards, and tin - depicts her personal story; perhapsmost riveting are the artists many self-portraits. In them, Kahlo often portrays herself in native Mexicandress, surrounded by her many pets and the lush vegetation of her homeland, her forehead or bodyimprinted with the people and events central to her life. Always intense and sometimes realistic or fantastic,her works show that her art and life were inseparable, fierce, timeless, and tragic.Multicultural Art Print Series, Women Artists of the Americas,Self- Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, Frida Kahlo
  19. 19. Student ReadingDiego RiveraThe Mexican artist Diego Rivera was a giant of a man who has a reputation for boisterous behavior, wildexaggeration and who antagonized nearly everyone around him. He was also an artist of extraordinarytalent, called "Mexicos national treasure" by her president.Rivera was born in 1886 and, even as a little boy, he astonished everyone with his artistic ability. Between1913 and 1917, Rivera produced over 200 Cubist-style paintings, but he abandoned the style to follow hisheart: painting from life in a realistic manner. He became increasingly sensitive to the plight of the poorand workers around the world. He wanted his art to give them hope and direction and his themes becameincreasingly political. His fame and reputation spread and he was invited to the United States, along withhis third wife, Frida Kahlo, a fellow Mexican brilliant and controversial artist. He painted murals in severalAmerican cities, but his themes and subjects were constantly attacked and public outrage followed himeverywhere. Rivera and Frida returned to their lives and work in Mexico. Rivera died in his studio in 1957.Take 5 art prints, Urban Environments, Diego Rivera,Detroit Industry, Consultant Lauren MarksLesson 2Lesson OverviewLesson ObjectivesCorrelated State StandardsMaterials and ResourcesPlanning and PreparationBackground Information for TeachersColorful paper banners, called papel picado (Spanish for "perforated paper"), can be found hanging abovethe streets during any Mexican fiesta or celebration. Usually made of tissue paper but sometimes of moredurable plastic, the cut banners are hung together like a string of flags. For the Days of the Dead, the cutdesigns feature skeletons, skulls, crosses, and tombstones. Some artists create intricate designs that takemany hours to make. Because of their fragility and the time spent creating them, cut paper banners arethemselves symbols of the transitory quality of life.Days of the Dead, CRIZMAC Art and Cultural Education Materials, Inc., p. 14
  20. 20. VocabularyBody of the LessonSummary and ClosureExtensions/Interdisciplinary ConnectionsLesson TitleLesson OverviewLesson ObjectivesCorrelated State StandardsMaterials and ResourcesPlanning and PreparationBackground Information for TeachersVocabularyBody of the LessonSummary and ClosureExtensions/Interdisciplinary ConnectionsLesson TitleLesson OverviewLesson ObjectivesCorrelated State StandardsMaterials and ResourcesPlanning and PreparationBackground Information for TeachersVocabularyBody of the LessonSummary and ClosureExtensions/Interdisciplinary Connections

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