Alia handled the tiny white skull delicately. “They are skulls for Day of the Dead,” she said. “You would make your own skull and you would give it to a friend or a family.”
The skulls, molded from sugar and glue, “are kind of like a Valentine,” Alia said. “They have something to remember their family. They would put it out for them.”
The Mexican tradition often involves a culinary version (sugar minus the glue). “There are ones that you can eat, but these kind stay longer,” Alia said. She painted her skull with colorful flowers.
Avery said the skulls are usually decorated in bright colors instead of dark and scary colors. Hers was festooned in feathers. “I chose feathers because I really like feathers and I’m making hair out them and glitter to make them shiny,” she said.
Millie’s skull featured long orange and yellow yarn hair plus a bit of bling. “I just tried to make it sparkly, so there is lots of glitter,” she said.
The name “Hagen” was written on the forehead of her sugar skull. “I made it for my teacher,” Millie said.
Theo said that instead of being scary, like Halloween, Dia de Muertos is a time to honor those who have died. “The skulls can be brought to a family of someone who died,” he said. “They put up pictures of them and their favorite food. They put the skulls around for decoration.”
Landon added: “They do things to turn the day into fun,” instead of being sad.
Landon was excited to share another craft with us. His rainbow painted hedgehog (or spikey porcupine) is an example of Oaxacan folk art wood carvings.
“It’s an alebrijes,” Landon said. “It’s a spiritual animal. If you die, he always saves your life.”
Landon said the carvings have the power to gain a special ability. “I don’t know what it is yet, but I hope they turn into propellers.” He pointed to the brightly colored spiky toothpicks sticking out of the back of his hedgehog.
To further the students’ Spanish language acquisition as well as introduce them to Latin cultures, the class is reading a book called La Pinata de Renata.
“This girl Renata gets a pinata…and she flies to different Spanish countries to explore them,” recounted Eden. (I missed the part about how getting the pinata results in travel, but maybe there was some magic involved?)
One thing she learned from the book is that the people in some Spanish-speaking countries eat octopus. “It’s very popular,” she said. “I really want to try it. It probably tastes like chicken.”
Eden was cutting out an image of a skeleton wearing an oversized flowery hat, another decoration for Day of the Dead. “I made it of my grandma and it’s for my grandma,” Eden said. She assures me that grandma is very much alive.