Festivals are an important part of community life at Seattle Waldorf School. Among the many festivals we celebrate, two are held by the SWS World Language program. In the spring, Mandarin teachers Daisy Tsang (grade school) and Yi Wang (high school) bring a celebration of the Lunar New Year. In the fall, el Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) celebration is led by Spanish teachers Señora Geraldine Strub (grade school) and Maestra Clara Lippert (high school).
This year, el Día De Los Muertos is celebrated October 31 through November 2 by many Latin Americans in Mexico and elsewhere. It is a holiday of joyful celebration and of remembering and honoring those who have passed on. The multi-day holiday involves gathering to pay respects to family and friends who have died.
Teacher Señora Strub, who grew up in Mexico, enjoys sharing memories with her students of her childhood celebrations, particularly with her grandmother. She remembers fondly the many sights and smells from the day, and especially the foods!
El Día de los Muertos traditions are passed from generation to generation and encompass a blend of indigenous, Pre-Hispanic, and Spanish/Catholic traditions. It marks a time when the veil between the living and the dead is easily crossed by loved ones who have departed and who now come to visit. Decorations include papel picado (cut paper representing the wind, one of the elements of life) and sugar skulls (representing departed souls). Cempasúchil, the Aztec name for marigolds, are also associated with Día de los Muertos and were used in Aztec funeral rituals. You might see them nestled alongside el Día de los Muertos ofrendas (offerings for loved ones placed on a home altar) and used in celebrations.
In the weeks leading up to el Día de los Muertos at Seattle Waldorf School, students learn about the history, meaning, and significance of the festival while creating or bringing from home their own ofrendas for loved ones, which are then added to the school altar. The altar at school is not considered a religious element, but an indication of celebration and remembrance of life. Grade school students visit the school altar, enjoy pan de muerto (bread topped with sugar), and place their offerings for loved ones. The high school celebrates with a festival for grades 9–12 led by the senior Spanish class. This year the seniors chose the theme of la mariposa monarca (the monarch butterfly) to bring to the festival. The monarch’s unique 3000 mile migration to Mexico aligns with el Día de los Muertos and the butterflies are believed by some to represent the souls of lost loved ones returning. Some early childhood classes celebrate with a simple day of remembrance, in which they bring photos of loved ones to school.
Wherever and however el Día de los Muertos is celebrated, it is a day to revere and remember the deceased, to make sure they know they are never forgotten and are truly celebrated. During this time of collective loss and separation, el Día de los Muertos may hold particular poignancy for our students, families, and community. May we remember those lost at this time and hold them in our hearts.
“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
“I reach out to you in Spiritual Worlds in which you are.
May my love mitigate thy warmth,
May my love mitigate thy cold.
May it reach out to you and help you to find your way through spirit darkness to spirit light!”
Featured image: High school altar for el Día de los Muertos celebration