Keen to honor your Hispanic heritage by celebrating the Day of the Dead with your kids? Here are some fun and educational activities and crafts to try.
Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is a Mexican tradition to honor and remember those who have passed.
If you want to reflect on your own Mexican heritage and celebrate the Day of the Dead in 2023, we’ve got traditional and respectful Day of the Dead activities for you to try with your kids.
First a word on cultural appropriation: Día de los Muertos is considered a meaningful and poignant celebration and remembrance by many people of Mexican heritage.
It’s not intended as a “horror” or “scary”, and it’s not considered the same as Halloween.
But it also depends on who you ask ‒ many Mexican people don’t mind others wearing sugar skull (or calavera) makeup, usually as long as it’s done with respect and appreciation.
If you’re worried about whether your celebration of Día de los Muertos is culturally appropriative, it’s always best to ask people of Mexico and to do your own research into the traditions and what they represent.
So throughout this article, we’ll have different Día de los Muertos activities practiced by our Peanut community from Mexico.
In this article: 📝
- What does Day of the Dead celebrate?
- How did the Day of the Dead start?
- When is the Day of the Dead?
- What are the Day of the Dead symbols?
- How do people celebrate Day of the Dead respectfully?
- Is Day of the Dead appropriate for kids?
What does Day of the Dead celebrate?
Día de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday linked to Aztec culture and Catholic Christian All Saints’ Day.
Day of the Dead celebrates just that ‒ those who have passed away.
But Day of the Dead traditions are often more focused on celebrating a person’s life rather than mourning their passing.
Día de los Muertos also represents the day (or week, in some Mexican locales) when the souls of those who have passed can visit friends and family, taking joy from their ofrendas (Day of the Dead offerings).
Why is the Day of the Dead important to Mexican culture?
We asked Carmen Ballesteros, a member of our Peanut community, what their thoughts were on the importance of the Day of the Dead.
“From my perspective, el Día de los Fieles Difuntos or el Día de Todos los Santos (which Día de los Muertos was originally based on) is important to us because we pray for all the beloved ones that have left earth on their way to heaven.
For us, life doesn’t end with death. Instead, life goes on, because it is eternal, due to our trust in Jesus Christ.
So, when we die we continue our path to our true fatherland which is heaven with our God.
We believe, as we affirm in The Apostles’ Creed, in ‘the communion of saints’ and ‘life everlasting’ ‒ these mean that ‘dead’ and ‘alive’ are connected through our faith and prayer.
Prayer fulfilled with faith is alive and when we pray, heaven opens, and God listens to us.
Besides, in the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’, articles 1030-32, which begin with ‘All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (1030).’ and ‘The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned (1031).’, so our prayers, sacrifices, and offerings help the souls in Purgatory to get to heaven with our God.
Día de los Muertos is more than a celebration, it is like a special day to remember and pray for all those who are on that path, just as one day we might be.”
Is Day of the Dead a happy or sad celebration?
While honoring those who have passed may be a more mournful occasion for some other cultures, in Mexican and Aztec culture, it’s much more of a celebration of the person’s life.
So the Day of the Dead is definitely a happy celebration than a sad one.
How did the Day of the Dead start?
The Day of the Dead history is a little complex.
Some elements of Day of the Dead tradition date back to Aztec times ‒ around the 13th century ‒ these focus on the practices of honoring relatives who have passed.
It was also the Aztec people who also started using skulls ‒ known as calavera ‒ as symbols to represent the dead.
But the Aztec version of Day of the Dead was celebrated from mid-July to mid-August, the 9th month of the Aztec calendar.
Then, in the 1500s, the Día de los Muertos history took a bit of a turn.
The invasion of conquistadors from Spain mean that many aspects of Aztec culture were adapted into Catholicism.
So the original Aztec Day of the Dead was combined with the Christian All Saints’ Day, although the happier celebrations stayed a part of the holiday.
How are Halloween and Day of the Dead similar?
Some people refer to Día de los Muertos as “the Mexican Halloween”, but this isn’t actually true.
The celebration of peoples’ lives was an Aztec tradition before it was associated with All Saints’ Day, and while there are similarities in the associations of the dead, that’s pretty much where the similartities end.
Halloween has become a holiday more about ‘fear’, very loosely based on the Celtic festival, Samhain, whereas Día de los Muertos isn’t about the ‘scary’ aspects of death, it’s more about honoring those who have passed.
When is the Day of the Dead?
So when is Día de los Muertos?
Traditionally, in Mexico, the Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 2nd.
But the celebrations of Día de los Muertos usually last a week, from about October 28th to November 6th, tying in other popular holidays like Halloween and All Saints’ Day.
Day of the Dead 2023 will take place on Thursday, November 2nd, 2023.
What are the Day of the Dead symbols?
There are lots of symbols associated with the Day of the Dead, and they each represent different aspects of the Aztec holiday:
- Calavera: Also known as the Day of the Dead skull or “sugar skull”, according to Day of the Dead traditions, the Día de los Muertos calavera doesn’t represent death, but instead is a symbol of the person who has passed.
- Cempasúchil: The Nahuatl (the language spoken by many of the Aztec people) word for the marigold, the Day of the Dead flower. Cempasúchil are used to decorate doorways and ofrendas, to show spirits how to visit their families and friends.
- Ofrenda: An ofrenda is a sort of altar where people leave offerings for their loved ones who have passed. Popular offerings include fruit, bread, calavera, and things that reflect that person’s personality or hobbies.
- Papel picado: One of the traditional Day of the Dead decorations, papel picado means “punched paper”, and is made from bright tissue paper in different colors to represent the different themes of Día de los Muertos.
- Pan de Muertos: A sweet-flavored bread sprinkled with sugar left as an offering on the ofrenda.
- Butterflies: Monarch butterflies tend to make their appearance around the Day of the Deadn in Mexico, so they’ve come to represent the souls of those who have passed, as they visit their loved ones.
What do the colors mean for Day of the Dead?
If you’re keen to put up some Day of the Dead decorations, it’s important to use the appropriate colors and understand what each of them represents.
It’s all about brightness and vivid colors, so get colorful!
One of the most important colors of Día de los Muertos, yellow represents the light that guides spirits to their families’ ofrendas.
It’s also the color of the cempasúchil, the marigolds of the Day of the Dead.
Orange represents the sun during the Day of the Dead, along with the monarch butterflies that symbolize the souls of those who have passed.
Red represents peoples’ life blood, encouraging the celebration of the lives of those who have passed away.
Pink is the color of joy during the Day of the Dead celebrations, along with the love that connects spirits and those in the living world.
Purple represents the acceptance that people have passed, and that it’s okay to be sad, but it’s still important to recognize the Day of the Dead as a time of celebration rather than mourning.
Black ultimately represents death, which is obviously a key theme of Día de los Muertos.
White signifies that the souls of those who have passed get a clean slate after death, along with the hope of those in the living world to see their loved ones again.
How do people celebrate Day of the Dead respectfully?
So how is Día de los Muertos celebrated, traditionally and as part of modern life in Mexico?
Well, there are lots of Day of the Dead activities that represent different aspects of the holiday.
What are some Día de los Muertos kids’ activities?
Here are some Day of the Dead activities to do with your kids, to teach them about the meanings and celebrations of Día de los Muertos.
1. Making (and eating) Día de los Muertos food
There are lots of traditional Day of the Dead foods you can bake and make with your little one, and the best part is that you can eat it after!
Here are a few Día de los Muertos foods you can make:
- Pan de Muerto: A sweet-tasting bread, decorated in a special way.
- Calabaza en Tacha: This is a classic Mexican pumpkin dish ‒ that’s right, pumpkins are a Día de los Muertos food you can enjoy!
- Calaveras: “Sugar skull” isn’t just a name, they’re literally skulls make from sugar!
- Tamales: A popular Mexican dish, these corn-based doughy delights are also traditionally eaten on the Day of the Dead.
- Alegrias candy: Similar to calaveras, these are nutty sweet treats that kids often make during the celebrations.
2. Put up Day of the Dead decorations
Making your home bright and colorful is one of the best Day of the Dead activites you can do with your kids.
Incorporate all the colors of the Day of the Dead with your papel picado, place cempasúchil (marigolds) around doorways (or make your own out of yellow tissue paper), and set up your ofrenda.
3. Create some Día de los Muertos crafts
After some Day of the Dead crafts for kids to get your little one involved?
Here are some ideas for Day of the Dead crafts:
- Calacas: Calacas are Day of the Dead skeletons, so why not encourage your kid to make their own skeleton. Use whatever you want ‒ white pens on black card, Q-tips, or cut-out paper.
- Calaveras: How about making your own sugar skull? Simply print out a basic calaveras design, like this one from Super Coloring ‒ a great idea for Día de los Muertos coloring pages.
- Day of the Dead nichos: Nichos are mini wooden boxes to represent the lives of those who have passed ‒ like an ofrenda, but smaller!
4. Set up your ofrenda
An ofrenda is the name for the Day of the Dead altar to honor those who have passed.
It’s somewhere treated with respect and love, and a great opportunity to talk to your little one about family and friends who are no longer with us.
Get your child involved with setting up your ofrenda, complete with candles (always supervise children around open flames), marigolds, photos of your passed loved ones, and offerings to them.
5. Tell stories of passed loved ones
Or watch old home movies ‒ it’s a great way to show your child where they come from.
And while we know it can feel sad to look back on memories of people who are no longer with us, try to focus on remembering the happy memories and their personality.
6. Visiting the resting places of those who have passed
Visiting the graves of loved ones, is a classic Day of the Dead tradition.
And if you want to take it one step further, how about cleaning and decorating their resting place, too?
Placing fresh marigolds can be a great choice for Día de los Muertos decorations.
Is Day of the Dead appropriate for kids?
So is the Day of the Dead for kids? Yes, it is!
But if your little one isn’t familiar with Día de los Muertos, it’s worth explaining to them that it’s not the same as Halloween.
And there are lots of Day of the Dead activities for kids to get them involved, too!
Is Day of the Dead scary?
No, there’s nothing scary about Día de los Muertos, it’s all about celebrating the lives of those who have passed.
Sure, skulls might be a big part of the Day of the Dead imagery, but they’re not intended to be scary.
There you have it ‒ 6 fun and educational Day of the Dead activities for kids, along with a few interesting facts about the origins of Día de los Muertos.
How are you celebrating the Day of the Dead 2023? Why not share it with our other mamas of Peanut?