November 29, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘A Close Look at My Day of the Dead Altar’

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This lesson is a part of our new Accessible Activities feature, which aims to welcome a wider variety of learners to our site and to The Times. Learn more and tell us what you think here.

Featured Article: “A Close Look at My Day of the Dead Altar” by Oscar Lopez

The beginning of November marks one of the most important holidays in Mexico: Day of the Dead. The Times reports:

Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos, is one of the most important celebrations in Mexico, with roots dating back thousands of years, long before Spanish settlers arrived. It has become a blend of Catholic tradition and Mexican mysticism, commemorating death as another element of life and as a way to remember and honor loved ones.

In this lesson, you will learn more about this holiday and about one of the traditions associated with it: the creation of an ofrenda, or altar, for loved ones who have died. Then, you will think of a special way to honor someone in your life who has passed away.

What do you know about Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos? Is it a holiday you observe with your family? Or have you learned about it from friends, school or movies? To find out more about the celebration, watch this three-minute video from Inside Edition:

Then, in writing or class discussion, respond to these questions:

  • Have you ever experienced the death of a loved one? If so, how did you commemorate the person’s death, or celebrate the person’s life?

  • Do you have traditions or customs in your culture or community to honor the dead?

Here are 10 words you’ll find in this article that you may not know:

1. element 2. deceased 3. maternal 4. beloved 5. offering 6. represent 7. connoting 8. purgatory 9. nod 10. quench

Which words are you familiar with? Which are new to you?

Use this list of words and their definitions on to learn what each means and to practice using them.

Note: You can read more about Day of the Dead here.

Click through and read the article above as a slide show, or read it here as a PDF. Then, answer the following questions:

1. What purpose does the ofrenda, or altar, serve in observing Day of the Dead?

2. What are some of the important items that are included in an ofrenda?

3. What is the significance of the seven levels of the altar? Are there numbers that are important in your culture, religion or spiritual practice?

4. Why does the author include candles and a glass of water in his altar?

5. What can we tell from Mr. Lopez’s altar about the beliefs of people who celebrate Day of the Dead about death?

6. Think about someone close to you who has died. What items, foods, drinks or other symbols remind you of him or her?

Now, think of a special way to honor a loved one who has died. Here are some ideas of things you could do to remember someone:

  • Write a poem, story or song about the person.

  • Draw, paint or make a mixed-media collage of a memory you have with the person.

  • Make an altar with objects that remind you of the person.

  • Do something you used to do with that person, such as cook a recipe the person taught you, watch his or her favorite movie, or play a sport he or she loved.

Here are some prompts to get you thinking about your loved one and what you could do to commemorate his or her life:

  • What three words would you use to describe this person?

  • What personal items remind you of this person?

  • What special memories do you have of the person?

  • What lessons has this person taught you?

  • What aspects of your own spiritual, cultural or religious traditions can you include in your creation?

After you’ve completed your creation or task, write a statement describing what you did or made and why. What does this piece or activity mean to you? How does it honor your loved one? Why did you make the artistic choices you did to create your piece?

Want more Lessons of the Day? You can find them all here.

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