“My son has been homeschooled since Kindergarten using Oak Meadow. He is graduating high school this year, has been admitted to the University of Wyoming with a full academic scholarship, and is starting in the Honors Program at the University. Ours has been a very positive and successful experience."
This post and the photos come from Sara Molina, our Spanish teacher, who splits her time between Vermont and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Thanks, Sara, for introducing us to this wonderful and colorful cultural celebration of our ancestors!
Skulls, death, skeletons: these items often inspire fear, or at least negative feelings. But in Mexico, and many other countries that celebrate the Day of the Dead, it is quite the opposite. ‘Día de los Muertos’ is a colorful holiday of joy and festivities based around honoring the lives of loved ones who have died. This is a time to celebrate and remember these loved ones through parties, dinners, altars, and parades. This celebration has a history of thousands of years, starting with a month-long holiday in the time of the Aztecs and then evolving to be celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2 with the arrival of Catholicism. November 1 is generally for celebrating infants and children who have passed and November 2 is to honor adults. Offerings play a large role, where the deceased are honored with their favorite foods, drinks, pictures of them, and other colorful decorations. Celebrations are often held in cemeteries, at the graved of loved ones, with music, food, and drink. As opposed to the somber tone often felt at cemeteries in the U.S., the feeling is festive and happy at these Day of the Dead cemetery celebrations.
Skulls and skeletons are an integral part of the Day of the Dead. The Catrina is the main skeleton seen, she is elegantly dressed and was created in the early 20th century by an artist aiming to poke fun at the high society ladies of the time. Some of the Catrina creations are stunning, with elaborate face painting and gorgeous and colorful costumes. Another fun tradition that just began last year in Mexico City, was a Day of the Dead parade. This was modeled after the Day of the Dead parade in the recent James Bond movie, ‘Spectre’. The opening scene features an impressive parade in Mexico City, and some leaders in the city decided to make it a reality this Day of the Dead. Feel like getting into the Day of the Dead Spirit? Create an altar or offering (ofrenda) for a loved one (pets too!) who has passed. Include flowers, their favorite foods or drinks, music, symbols of activities they enjoyed, pictures of them etc. Or if cooking is more appealing, create the traditional Día de los Muertos dish: pan de muertos (bread of the dead). This is a basic sweet roll that is often molded into various shapes: angels, animals, or of course on this holiday – skeletons! And if you’re a crafty person, try making a traditional decoration of this time: Papel Picado. This colorful paper is cut with patterns, and hung around the altar, and all over streets during this time. Regardless of our level of celenration of the holiday, pausing for a moment to fondly remember loved ones no longer with us can bring a smile to our faces.
Additional Resources: National Geographic site about Day of the Dead (good for general Day of the Dead info and activities. A clean and well organized site) BBC documentary about Day of the Dead in Mexico (a 20ish minute documentary, one of the better ones I’ve seen about Day of the Dead) Recipe for Pan de Muertos Directions and Template for Papel Picado Mexico City Day of the Dead parade video
Halloween is just around the corner, and with it comes a host of modern traditions and expectations that are exciting for some but may not be a good fit for all families. Creating wholesome seasonal traditions for our children can sometimes be challenging in this day and age. But with thought and care, it can be done.
There are many reasons why families might not choose to participate in trick-or-treating or other Halloween traditions. Some children are easily scared by Halloween imagery. Some families have religious or philosophical reasons to forego Halloween. Some children must avoid sugar or other ingredients present in candy traditionally given to trick-or-treaters. Some parents object to the act of collecting candy from neighbors. Some families are offended by the commercial twist on this holiday. Some live in locations where neighbors are scarce or unknown, and in some areas it’s not safe to go door-to-door.
For some families, foregoing Halloween altogether is the right solution. But some of us have a nostalgic attachment to Halloween that we’d like to share with our children in some way. The turning of the seasons from summer to fall, the shortening of days, the arrival of chill air, the falling leaves, and the enticing harvest colors invite us to celebrate this special time of year.
One possibility is to host an old-fashioned seasonal party at home for family, friends, and fellow homeschoolers. My children and I kept this tradition for a number of years, and it held the lure of trick-or-treating at bay until a time in our family’s growth when that felt appropriate.
Ask each family to bring something yummy (preferably homemade or homegrown) for a harvest potluck table. Apples, cider, corn muffins, pumpkin bread, popcorn… A simmering pot of stew or chili on the stove can round things out if your party happens to be around lunch or dinner time.
Invite your guests, young and old, to come dressed in not-too-scary costumes. Those who need help might borrow from your dress-up bin if it’s placed in plain sight. An adult might offer face-painting. Start off the party with a festive “costume parade” and the opportunity for each participant to tell about their costume if they wish.
My children enjoyed making crafts and decorating the house in advance of the party. With a simple color theme — orange and black — anything they chose to make fit right in. We also played our favorite Wee Sing Halloween recording in the background, and it has remained a nostalgic seasonal favorite.
Offer a generous pile of seasonally themed craft supplies and simple ideas. Orange paper pre-cut into pumpkin shapes can become decorated “jack-o-lanterns,”
black cardstock can be made into bats, black pipe cleaners can become friendly spiders.
A basket of mini pumpkins and gourds can be beautifully decorated with black beeswax crayons. Orange, yellow, brown, and black construction paper and crayons, scissors and glue, and other open-ended supplies can become whatever little imaginations fancy.
Prepare a number of old-fashioned games for those who want to participate. Keep the emphasis on the fun and the competition gentle.
Here are some ideas for games that have worked well over the years:
bobbing for apples: We found that soft apples such as Macintosh work best for this. If your crowd has a low tolerance for potential germ transmission, this may not be an appropriate game, but for those who find it acceptable, it sure is fun!
pin the tail on the cat: (nose on the jack-o-lantern? branch on the tree?) There are many possible options for this game. Create a poster with an incomplete picture of something (such as a cat missing its tail), and make up many loose identical tails. Have each player write their names on them). Stick a piece of tape on each tail. Blindfold the player (“tail” in hand) and point them toward the poster. See whose piece gets stuck the closest to its target! (Blindfolded older players can be turned around gently a few times before setting off toward the target.)
sack race: We got burlap sacks free from our local coffee roaster, but pillowcases work well, too. Set up start and finish lines using ropes. Participants climb into a sack and hop from start to finish. Usually at least some of the players fall over and hilarious laughing ensues!
three-legged race: Use the same start/finish lines as the sack race. Use playsilks or other soft cloths for tying teammates’ legs together so that two people have “three” legs. Teams must run from start to finish as quickly as they can. As with the sack race, there is often great fun when teams lose their balance!
spoon relay race: We found googly eyeballs to use instead of hard-boiled eggs, but anything spoon-sized that is ball-shaped or egg-shaped will do! Team members should divide themselves between the start and finish lines. Each team gets a spoon and a ball (or egg/eye) to balance on it while they walk or run toward the finish line. When the first team member reaches the finish line, they hand the spoon to the next member, who heads back toward the start line. Try not to let the egg/ball/eye fall off the spoon! If it does, pick it up and keep going.
doughnuts on strings: Hang plain or cider doughnuts on string from the low-hanging branch of a tree. Place them at varying heights based on the sizes of the participants. (Hint: Hang only one doughnut per person.) Ask each player to stand in front of their doughnut, hold their hands behind their back, and on the count of “ready, set, go!” try to eat it using just their mouth. Speed can vary; everyone wins a doughnut!
mummy wrap: This is a great game for groups with a wide range of ages. Form teams so that ages are fairly represented across the teams and olders can help the youngers. Each team gets a roll of toilet paper and chooses one person to be their mummy. Each team must wrap their mummy completely with toilet paper; first team to finish wins.
fishing-for-fortunes: Create a fishing pole from a dowel or twig, string, and a magnet tied at the end of the string. Make up strips of paper with happy fortunes written on them; curl them up and attach a paper clip to each one. Players dip the fishing pole into the bowl. When the magnet firmly attracts a paper clip, they pull it out and read their “catch”!
All of these games are appropriate for a wide range of ages, and parents or older children can help the younger ones. In most cases our parties shifted from games and snacks toward running around the yard shrieking and laughing. A bonfire would be a great addition if space and safety considerations allowed.
My children and those who attended our homegrown Halloween parties have fond memories and stories of the fun they had. What are your family’s homegrown traditions around Halloween? Do you have any suggestions to add?