The Spanish students of Martha Hibbard and Corey Oliver at Bob Courtway Middle School were learning about Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on Friday.

Dia de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico and Central America on Nov. 1 and 2. Hibbard explained the tradition dates back to the Aztecs, Mayans and Toltecs, who had specific times to commemorate the dead. When the Spanish came to the area, the Catholic clergy likened the indigenous gods to Catholic saints, and the rituals began to be celebrated in correspondence with two Spanish holidays, All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).

Hibbard told students Dia de los Muertos is not a time of mourning but rather a celebration because of a belief in the afterlife. Because it is a celebration of deceased loved ones, it is traditional to make calacas — whimsical, funny skeletons, Hibbard said. On Friday, she encouraged students to be creative in decorating paper cutouts of skeletons.

Hibbard also described the tradition of making ofrendas — offering tables for the loved ones who have died.

"They believe the deceased would return, and so they need to offer gifts," she said.

It is traditional to place the person’s favorite things on the table, including foods and other items, as well as toys for children. Photos of the person are also set out. She said large, cheerful gatherings occur at cemeteries and last all night long. Participants burn incense and place marigold flowers to invite the spirits to visit, she added.

While Hibbard’s classes were making calacas and trying pan de muerto (bread of the dead), Oliver’s classes were watching a video about Dia de los Muertos.

Seventh-grade student Jazzlyn Turnage said of the video, "I thought it was pretty cool how they honor the dead instead of mourning over it. They thought of it as a celebration. I thought it was interesting how it was so much different from us. We celebrate Independence Day and Memorial Day and Veterans Day. They reminded me of Dia de los Muertos."

Ryan Boone, another member of the class, said, "The main thing I got from the video is it’s more than just dressing up and getting candy, it’s about the people you love who passed on."

Oliver said, "The kids are excited about the tradition, and I was excited about the maturity with which they approached the new information about the different culture. They were able to make connections with our own holidays — Memorial Day and Veterans Day, as well as Halloween."

He said the students may have found a greater appreciation for how Latin Americans spend their time during those two days than for how Americans spend their time on Halloween.

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