If you’re after something different to do with the kids over half term, a Mexican cultural Day of the Dead parade might be just the thing, and it’s the opposite of the melancholy event it sounds. We’ve been to one and it was great fun.
Taking place around the UK in October and November, you won’t miss out even if half term has finished where you live. There’s a link to events at the bottom of the page.
When I started writing this I wasn’t sure if it was about celebration, death, religion, fun, things to do with kids, culture, Halloween or what! In the end it’s about them all.
Mexico was my home for 7 months back in 2002 but I sadly missed the experience and culture of Day of the Dead as I was on a road trip from Arizona to Tulum on the day. We arrived in Guadalajara very late and exhausted. At the time I didn’t realise how huge a cultural festival it was or I’d have made the effort to join in.
In Mexico and South America, Day of the Dead or Dia de Los Muertos, is a much more cultural and spiritual celebration than our over-commercialised Halloween. People remember and mourn their dead ancestors, relatives and friends with bright and colourful altar shrines including candles, marigolds, photos of loved ones. Sweet treats like candy sugar skulls have become traditional since the 1900s.
It’s for family AND kids; children aren’t shielded from death. The festival is also full of joy and fun with carnival-like parades at many celebrations to remind us that death does not diminish the love we had nor the importance our lost loved ones still have in our lives.
We don’t talk about death in the same way over here. I have a big issue with the taboo of death especially around children. It is a part of the cycle of everyday life, a ritual, a rite of passage. Children should know about death and not be frightened of it. There are posts lined up in my head for airing one of these days!
As UK Hallowe’en is just for fun I love the idea of an extra festival that remembers our dead with respect, love, colour and fun.
It is with poignant irony that Caroline and I attended our first Day of the Dead festival (in Lincoln, 2016) with my best friend, Julia, just five months before she lost her six-year battle with cancer.
It wasn’t a huge parade, just a couple of hundred people and four or five exuberant entertainers. The giant skeleton puppet of Catrina fascinated all the children as we followed the parade around cobbled Lincoln streets, clapping, singing and with a little bemusement too.
Skeletons are often a thing of fear for kids yet this one was clad in coloured flowers. We realised we hadn’t explained to our seven year old girls the significance of it. No wonder they were bemused! (Catarina is a 20th century addition to Dia de Los Muertos celebrations, introduced from a satirical Mexican artwork of the era mocking those indigenous people who tried to dress in the European style and powder their faces white.)
Caroline took a liking to Catrina and everything about the Dia de Los Muertos event. This year she’s made quite an elaborate Catrina costume for our neighbourhood trick or treat on Halloween!
Back in Lincoln after the parade there were Mexican crafts in a shop off the High Street. The girls coloured in sugar skull masks to take home and there was sugar skull face painting. There was also an altar shrine (main photo) to show what they are like in South America.
Find a Day of the Dead Celebration Near You
A slightly random place to find a list of party events, the FuneralZone website has a fairly comprehensive diary of UK Dia de Los Muertos cultural celebrations. They’ve also got a lot more detail about Day of the Dead if you’d like more info.
Hallowe’en (or All Hallows Eve)
All Saint’s Day (Christian remembrance of the Saints)
All Soul’s Day (Christian remembrance of the dead)
Day of the Dead/Dia de Los Muertos (South American remembrance of the dead)
Holy Halloween or Satanic Satire
Commercial as it is, I have enjoyed Halloween since childhood (though it wasn’t nearly as commercial back then). I am also Catholic and am amused by the number of Christians who regard Hallowe’en as a devil-worshipping, satanic festival – devil worshipping is devil-worshipping people; Hallowe’en (Hallows Evening) stems from a Christian vigil on the eve of All Saint’s Day, which in itself may have piggy-backed onto the pagan Celtic festival of Samhain which celebrates the end of summer.
Hallow or Hallows means holy or sacred, which is far from how we regard Hallowe’en these days!
For information on the origins of Hallowe’en read more here – and maybe next year I’ll do a post about it.
November Dead List Matchbox Craft
Because Caroline was so taken with all things Mexican we looked up some craft ideas and found this lovely ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’ decorated matchbox.
Caroline decorated this herself two years ago
Read my memory box tutorial on how to make your own.
The Catholic Church has a tradition of creating a November Dead List. Rather bleak sounding isn’t it? A bit like Day of the Dead. People are encouraged to add the names of dead relatives and friends to a list to be prayed for during the whole month of November.
In line with my views on teaching children about death, we decided to make Caroline’s matchbox a ‘Dia de Los Muertos dead list box’, and once she’d painted it we wrote out a little card for each of our lost relatives, friends and even pets. We add to it, sadly, whenever someone else close to us dies.
It was awful adding Julia’s name to it, but Caroline drew a little angel on the card and because the box is Mexican themed it always takes me back to that day, one of our last few together.
We’re planning to go to a Day of the Dead celebration in Newcastle this year to remember Julia and celebrate the cycle of death with friendship, laughter, dancing and life.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Day of the Dead and helping children think about and deal with death. Do you talk to your kids about death?
Day of the Dead Discovery
Why not plan your own Dia de Los Muertos party if there isn’t one near you? Click the images for Amazon prices on these great party and gift ideas.
Sugar Skull party pinata