Kulshan Spanish students Finnegan Johnson and Zoe Young presented on Día de los Muertos

This fall at Kulshan Middle School, students in Spanish language classes worked on a Día de Muertos project at the school. Translated as Day of the Dead, the day falls on All Soul’s Day Nov. 2 in the Catholic tradition. Día de Muertos is celebrated every year in Mexico with offerings to loved ones who have passed on in this world.

Traditional items placed on an ofrenda include photos of the deceased, water, salt, fruit, bread, other favorite foods, candy, and favorite toys. The offerings (ofrendas) honor family, friends and pets who have left us, sustaining their memory.

Throughout the day at Kulshan, each Spanish class had student presenters describe the tradition and what each of the offerings signified. Presented in both Spanish and in English, other classrooms at the school were invited to listen and learn about this important Mexican tradition.

Some of the items on the altar have special meaning. For example, water represents the source of life and the purity of the soul (El agua representa la fuente de la vida y es la pureza del alma) and candles represent “the light,” the faith, the hope (velas significan “la luz” y la fe).

Another important addition around the altar is the traditional colored tissue paper cut into designs called papel picado. The papel picado represents the wind that brings the souls to the altar.

KMS Spanish teacher Cristina Pavon-Camargo is a new teacher at Kulshan this year. She set up the ofrenda at school so that her students could learn about a piece of Mexican culture and even contribute items themselves in memory of someone they have lost. While this is the third time she has set up ofrendas in Washington state,  “in Mexico,” she explained, “we always set up ofrendas in schools and, in some schools, we even have contests.”

According to Pavon-Camargo, her students enjoyed this cultural event. “They are learning the meanings and the stories behind the tradition,” she said, “and even some of my native Spanish speakers that practice this tradition at home learned new things.”

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