It is not Mexican Halloween.

What is the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos)?

Dia de los Muertos is a celebration and reflection of friends, family, and community members who have died in recent years and/or those that still mean so much to the living. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is akin to a National Holiday and is celebrated throughout the country in various ways. Many have traced Dia de los Muertos back to indigenous tribes in Mexico as a way to continue celebrating ancient traditions even after the conquest by Spain (and by extension the Catholic Church). It is no coincidence that this celebration takes place on the church calendar's All Saints' Day (November 1) and All Souls' Day (November 2). It is also celebrated all over Western and Southwestern United States.

In Mexican and Mexican-American households throughout the U.S., it is quite common to see altars or mini-altars set up to honor and remember loved ones who have passed on to the other side. These altars often comprise of photos and symbolic reminders of the person. If the person was, for example, a guitar player, there might be guitar picks on the altar. If the person was a doctor, there might be stethoscopes. Altars are festooned with candles, flowers (usually marigolds), pan dulce (sweets), favorite drinks, and favorite items. There might be sugar skulls or papier mache skeletons.

It's also common to see altars set up for specific groups of people. For example, Monterey County in California had an altar for eight years to those who had died of AIDS. There have been ones for domestic violence victims, artists, musicians, writers, any group you can think of.

How Can I Make It Relevant to Kids?

We don't level with kids about death very often. Dia de los Muertos offers us a perfect solution to this dilemma.

Build an Altar

Kids know that people die but they also know it's something we try not to talk about. Let building an altar of remembrance be a way to talk about it. Last year, a dear family friend who often spent time with my kids died. They had a hard time getting over her death. We are making an altar to her for the day and building it with favorite items that she liked.

My son used to watch Star Wars movies with her so he's putting one of them on the altar along with her favorite air-popped popcorn. She taught my daughter to eat raw tomatoes from the garden with just a pinch of salt and pepper. That, too, is going on the altar. Talking about her and building the altar helps my children deal with her passing in a refreshing way. They have license to share rather than be closed up about it.

Attend a Parade or Visit a Cemetery

If you are in the southwest or western part of the United States, there might be something going on in your city or town — at a cemetery if not at in a parade. This is a great opportunity to learn and observe something from another culture with your children. Think about discussing how your region or culture honor those who have died.

Learn More About Day of the Dead

For more information on building your own altar or the history of Day of the Dead, check out these sites:

This post was included in the Carnival of Homeschooling and the Homeschooling on the Cheap blog carnivals.