Every Waldorf school observes the rhythms of the year, most noticeably through the calendar of festivals. In some Spanish Language classes, the day after Halloween, Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is celebrated as a day of remembrance of the departed.
Based on a confluence of ancient traditions including those of the Roman, Celtic, Mayan, and Aztec cultures, the ritual of honoring the dead took hold most notably in Mexico. Día de los Muertos is often celebrated in U.S. classrooms and regions that honor the Mexican culture.
Contrary to the assumption that it is a maudlin event, it is a joyous celebration of those who have passed on. In Mexico, families often visit the cemetery and have a picnic. Favorite foods of the deceased are eaten, candles are lit, and brilliant flowers are placed on the graves. On this day, the spirits of the dead are called to visit. Through lively images and actions, and by sharing photos and stories of the deceased with children, their loving memories live on into the future.
Last year the HVWS celebration was cancelled due to Storm Sandy. This year, Spanish Language teacher Marcela Perez outwitted the weather by celebrating with the Sixth Grade a little early: the HVWS celebration took place on Sunday, October 20th.
An altar was decorated in the Atrium, and the children and their families were invited to come on Sunday afternoon to share memories of relatives who had passed away. The celebration started with the Sixth Graders’ presentation of a short skit in Spanish about how Día de los Muertos is celebrated in Mexico. Then each student presented the family member they had chosen to honor: the time and place of their birth, favorite activities, favorite foods and drinks. After the presentations, the students served hot chocolate and a magnificent Bread of the Dead baked by one of the mothers. The celebration ended with the students singing, in Spanish, a few songs from Mexico.
According to Maestra Marcela, a native of Colombia, one of the main purposes of studying a foreign language in a Waldorf school is to expand the children’s awareness of cultures outside their own and to develop a positive attitude towards them. These are the foundations of global understanding.
“The capacity to be open to understanding a different way of looking at the world, as expressed in the manifestations of another culture, also helps us understand the differences that exist among the people who live in our own community and share similar values and beliefs,” Maestra Marcela said. “Being able to see another’s person point of view and experience of the world is not always easy, yet it is crucial for understanding and communicating with each other. Listening to another language and learning to articulate words with a different pronunciation may allow us to develop the patience we need to listen and to speak to each other."
El Día de los Muertos provides a prime opportunity to practice Spanish language skills and to begin to develop a concept of an alternative culture. The students may even contrast the event with that of one in the German culture and language, which is also studied at HVWS. Waldorf schools strive to educate children to be open-minded and embrace other cultures, not just in the classroom, but also throughout their life’s journey.
Also this year, Jillian Miller's Second Grade class will be creating their own altar for Día de los Muertos to honor the saints that they have studied so far this school year. The children will make garlands, paper marigolds and lanterns for their saints. All are invited to add remembrances of their own to the altar during this year's Fall Fair. Drop by the Second Grade to see the display or to add the name of a loved one to the book of saintly thoughts and deeds. You may also add flowers, photos, or candles to the display while it is open for viewing.
Thanks to contributions by Marcela Perez, Jillian Miller and photographer Krista Stringer