I grew up helping my mom decorate a small altar in a corner of our dining room area to celebrate the Day of the Dead back in Mexico. I remember this tradition with pride. I have always believed that Día de los Muertos is one of the most beautiful and interesting celebrations we have in Mexico. It's about celebrating the life of our beloved ones who are no longer with us, and sharing some of their favorite things with them.
When we created the ofrenda or altar de muertos in our home, we basically added everything our loved ones needed to have a good time when they came back to "visit us" on earth. Some of the things we would always include are a picture of our loved ones, water, candles or veladoras, marigolds (also know as cempazuchitl flowers), sugar skulls, pan de muerto, papel picado and all the food and beverages that our loved ones liked to enjoy while they were living.
I have amazingly vivid memories of this tradition. It was always a great excuse to ask my parents about their childhood and hear stories about my abuelito. Now that I have a son, I can't wait to celebrate the Day of the Dead with him and make it a special part of his life.
Teaching kids about what the Day of the Dead tradition stands for might be a little tricky, but sitting them down to talk about what each element involved actually stands for while they help build the altar de muertos or ofrenda is definitely a great way to get started. There are also so many Day of the Dead children's books available nowadays.
These stickers would be a perfect way to start the conversation with the kids, and a fun activity to make with them while you put together the altar of the Day of the Dead this year! Print them on adhesive printer paper and let the kids color them with markers or colored pencils. While the kids are coloring, talk to them about the meaning of each element of the Day of the Dead tradition, so they get to have fun and get to know more about this unique celebration!
Here are the elements of the altar on the stickers and their meanings so you can teach your kids about each one:
Candles or veladoras. The flame means light, hope and faith. They are added to the altar or ofrenda as a guide, so that the spirits can find the way to their their family or former home.
Papel picado. It represents the wind and the joy of life. Papel picado is brightly colored, perforated pieces of paper with fun designs that are hung as decoration all around the altar de muertos.
Sugar skulls. The sugar skulls are a reminder that the only certainty for a human being is death. Death to the ancient Mesoamericans was the completion of a stage of life that extended to another level, it wasn't something scary at all. Sugar skulls are typically made with sugar, water and meringue powder and then decorated with colorful foil for the eyes, over the foreheads and decorated with colorful icing to make elaborate designs.
Marigold flowers. The yellow marigold flowers, also known as cempazuchitl flowers, are the most common flowers used on Day of the Dead altars. Traditionally the marigold's orange color is a symbol of festivity, and the smell helps guide the spirits and souls of the departed to the altar on the Day of the Dead and then back again.
Copal and incense. They symbolize the passing from life to death. It is used to clean the place of evil spirits and allow the soul to enter your home safely.
Pan de muerto. It's a special kind of bread, usually scented with orange blossom water or anise, consumed only as part of the Day of the Dead traditions. It has different shapes depending on the area of Mexico it's made, and it represents the human body. There is often dough on top formed in the shape of bones.
Water. Is offered to the spirits to mitigate their thirst after the long journey and to strengthen them for their journey back.
Fruits and other traditional food. Altars often include the favorite foods of the departed. Some of the most common dishes in a traditional ofrenda are tamales, mole and some fruits like mandarins, jicama and jocotes, just to name a few.