Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Día de los Muertos" and Calavera Masks

Día de los Muertos is the Day of the Dead which is a two-day holiday that is mainly celebrated in Mexico and by people of Mexican heritage living in North America. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and relatives who have died. The celebration occurs on the 1st and 2nd of November, in connection with the Catholic holy days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day which take place on those 2 days. Traditions include building private altars honoring the deceased, using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts. Día de los Muertosis is a "happy" time to find joy in the lives of those who have passed on, and celebrate a "reunion" with them.

(The photo above is of two "catrinas". The figures are intended to show that rich and fashionable, despite their pretensions to importance, are just as susceptible to death as anyone else.)

Students in grades 5-8th got a big kick out of the "Calavera" (Spanish for skull) mask project. Because that weekend was Día de los Muertos I had to forgo the part of the assignment where they would be required to draw their own "Calavera" to decorate and embellish into a mask. Instead I encouraged it, but also provided a choice of three different Calavera templates they could fill with color and add embellishments like glitter, yarn, and feathers. Some masks have been on display and all the younger students keep asking me when they get to make a mask. Of course, due to how the use of decorating skeletons can be misunderstood by parents that don't understand the cultural background of Día de los Muertos. I saved this project for the older groups (5th grade and above). I was delighted that a few "free-handed" designed calaveras still emerged, despite the "templates" that were provided. The Calavera in the middle was done by a very gifted 8th grader, who has a distinct drawing ability! And the one immediately to the right of that, shows the humor in such a project with the added "candy corn" teeth! lol!

(Below) I was very impressed with the green calavera on the left. also free-handed! The second calavera was also very creatively embellished with yarn for hair, creating braids to go with the color and glitter!

(Below) And here I am sporting the mask that was made by our principal. I was teaching this Calavera/Día de los Muertos lesson when the principal came in to do the first of my two yearly evaluations. I think it was a good sign that the principal stopped writing notes and started making a mask of her own!


  1. I was very impressed by the two masks you mentioned, too. All of them look really great! Cool that your principal joined in the fun! :)

  2. Oh, forgot to say that the one with the candy corn teeth was my favorite...just because of the candy corn. :)