El Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, or also known as Dia de los Difuntos, Dia de los Fieles Difuntos, is celebrated in many Latin American countries and not just Mexico. It is an observance that coincides with the Catholic religious holidays of All Saints Day on Nov 1 or All Souls Day on Nov. 2. Many families get together create altars or "ofrendas," visit graves, and may celebrate by having a big feast in honor of the deceased, and dress up in parades.
While it may be easier as adults to celebrate a deceased one's life, a child that experiences the loss of a loved one can be a very traumatic experience. Helping our kids Honor and remember the dead or departed in a positive and creative way can help them better deal with their emotions and better understand why we as Latinos honor this tradition.
This year since my 3 and a half year old is older, I wanted to include her in remembering our loved ones, specifically her grandpa, my husband's dad. My sister had given us this Artminds Unfinished Wood Heart Picture Frame. I had my daughter Victoria paint it using all purpose craft paints, you can use Crayola Tempera Paints as well. Once it dried, I used Tulip Puffy Fabric Paint (also works well on wood) and wrote "my Grandpa" on it. She put the finishing touches by adding stickers of her grandpa's favorite things...animals.
We celebrate many occasions with flowers. Flowers can be purchased for your altar or to take to your loved one's grave. Your child can help by helping you select the flowers at the flower shop. At home, have your child help you remove unnecessary leaves and they can help you select the vases. When they feel involved they feel a part of the celebration.
You can also plant seeds of your loved one's favorite flowers or plants. Have your child decorate or paint the flower pot. Watch your plant grow and who knows, it may even make to next year's celebration!
Many children love getting their hands dirty and "helping" you in the kitchen, so let them! There are many recipes for pan de muerto and sweet breads online. If you need a recipe, check out our Pinterest Day of The Dead for Kids Board. They can help you mix the ingredients, knead the bread, make the shapes, or decorate. Who cares if it's not as pretty as the ones on Pinterest, we've all had our Pinterest fails, the bottom line is that you created it with mucho amor, and that's what truly matters.
Have your child write 5 things they remember about their loved one. If they do not remember their loved one you can write 5 things you remember and share it with them. If they are not old enough to write you can write it for them. The idea is to get your children to talk to you, to open up about their feelings, and express themselves. If they are older, they can write a letter to their loved one and leave it at the altar or grave.
Art is very therapeutic and children can express themselves sometimes better with art than with words. Your child can paint a picture and this can help them express their emotions. Let them be as creative as they want to be and do not impose your thoughts on their masterpiece. If they want to paint a blue dog with wings, let them. Your job is simply to ask questions like "Can you tell me about your picture," "How is he/she feeling?" and avoid questions like "Why did you paint him blue (or green or black)?" and instead say "I noticed that you painted him blue, is that because he's sad?" Again, the idea is to open up dialog and for the child not to feel judged about his artwork.
We can most definitely remember the music our loved ones listened to. Maybe they played it in their car all the time, maybe it was what they loved dancing to at parties, or maybe it was a concert they wouldn't miss. I know there are certain songs that trigger memories of friends and family members that have passed on. You can play your loved ones favorite music, sing, and even dance. You can share stories with your children of that time you were in the car with your loved one and this song came on or that concert you attended or maybe it was your abuela's radio blasting Vicente. A way to honor the dead is definitely through music you can even do it old school. I'm sure your kids would get a kick!
There are many ways you can teach children to get in touch with their spirituality, but they look at you for direction. Whether you go to church and they go with you, whether you go on a nature walk and you teach your children to sit quietly and listen to nature, or you teach them to pray, these are all ways we can help them tap into that bigger force. Helping them connect with their spirituality is also another way we can help them cope or deal with their feelings and emotions when it comes to loss. They may experience anger and confusion. We can acknowledge their feelings, offer support and guidance, and seek professional help when needed.
It is believed that lighting a candle signifies light in darkness. Some people believe that it lights the journey of the dead on Day of the Dead. Others believe light is as a symbol for prayer for the souls of the departed or a symbol of Christ. With children, of course, lights simply look cool, and therefore they should be supervised as they can present their serious hazards. Nevertheless, if it's part of your tradition or religion, it's important to share with your children. Just keep mil ojos (thousand eyes) on them!
As Latinos food is at our hearts. It's how we celebrate the living and the dead. It's how we come together as families to celebrate our biggest triumphs and even sadness. Sharing a special meal to remember our loved ones keeps their memories alive through our tradition. It offers an opportunity to share stories, memories, and celebrate living. Your children can experience firsthand the power of unity, family, and the importance of our heritage. Remember children learn by example, they are looking at you to set it.
Remembering and honoring our deceased loved ones is a beautiful thing to share and teach our children and you don't have to be Latino or Hispanic to do this. It keeps our family's history alive, it keeps our traditions alive, and it keeps our culture alive for future generations.
*In loving memory of Stefan Trayanov and Donna Maggos. We love you and miss you.
"Know that I'm with you the only way that I can be. Until you're in my arms again, remember me." -Coco