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Why I Celebrate Day of the Dead With My Kids

Photograph by Denise Cortes

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, has become a huge part of my family's life for more than a decade. Although I didn't grow up celebrating the holiday with my parents, I was quickly enchanted by the beauty of its traditions, and I knew it was something I wanted to share with my own family. It's a very magical time of the year and I'm often buzzing with creativity and inspiration. I look forward to many things every November: the sound of the shells as the Aztec dancers perform, the Día de los Muertos-inspired artwork, the smell of copal and the altars that are both beautiful and touching.

Photograph by Denise Cortes

Every year, my children have celebrated alongside my husband and I and they enjoy it as much as we do. We've attended festivals, art exhibits, ceremonies, dances and we've read books about the history, we've created arts and crafts and we've painted our faces, too. We've done all this as a family. I think it's important to teach my children about Día de los Muertos because I want them to have an understanding of their own ethnic heritage, and I want to instill a sense of pride in their culture. We make the conscious effort to remember our loved ones who were very important parts of our lives and have passed on.

Photograph by Denise Cortes

As a mother of six kids, it is my pleasure to introduce my children to new and different things. They've grown up celebrating Day of the Dead, and they understand this isn't a scary holiday or worse, "Mexican Halloween." It saddens me when I hear people say they are concerned about the "dark" imagery surrounding this holiday, or that it seems creepy or weird to "celebrate" the dead with their children. Some are put off by the ritualistic nature of the day — the visiting of grave sites — which is customary in Mexico — building altars, laying out offerings, baking pan de muerto and lighting candles.

My children have yet to experience tragedy and death, so their celebrating is always in the abstract. One day, it won't be so. Then we'll celebrate Día de los Muertos in earnest.

Still, there is comfort in certain rituals. I honestly believe that Día de los Muertos is for the living, not the dead. The souls of our loved ones are long gone; only their shell remains in the ground. But the physical exercise of remembering them — what they liked to eat and drink and what their laugh sounded like is demonstrated by our offerings of cempazuchitl (marigolds), bread, creating art, dancing, burning sage, donning a mask — those are for us.

My children have yet to experience tragedy and death, so their celebrating is always in the abstract. One day, it won't be so. Then we'll celebrate Dia de los Muertos in earnest.

Photograph by Denise Cortes

We'll build our altar and tenderly place photos of our loved ones upon it.

We'll light candles.

We'll sprinkle cempazuchitl.

We'll eat pan de muerto.

We'll put flowers in our hair.

We'll love and laugh.

And we'll remember our loved ones together.

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