As children get ready to celebrate Halloween, students at Carrboro Elementary School are getting a chance to learn about and participate in another holiday.
Janet Davis-Castro's third-, fourth- and fifth-grade Spanish classes will be celebrating the Day of the Dead as part of their study of the Spanish language and its culture. The fifth-grade class made an altar that resembles those made in Central America and Mexico.
"It is a holiday in Mexico and Central America," Davis-Castro said. "It is a unique blend of North American and Catholic customs. It basically remembers those that have died, family or close friends."
The Day of the Dead, which is celebrated from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, started when the Spanish first converted the Aztecs to Catholicism. The Spanish incorporated the ancient rituals of the Aztecs with the Catholic holiday of All Souls Day, in an effort to appease the newly converted Aztecs. The Spanish designated Nov. 2 as the day for the Aztecs to celebrate their customs.
Traditionally, in celebration of the Day of the Dead, altars are placed in the home in honor of dead relatives. Food for the spirit, flower arrangements and other mementos are placed on the altar in honor of deceased family members and friends.
The alter made by Davis-Castro's fifth-grade class will honor famous deceased people who have made contributions to their communities. "It gives them an opportunity to think about people who have died and of their contributions."
Such legendary people as Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, Babe Ruth and Martin Luther King were all honored on the class' altar.
Students put flowers, pictures and personal trinkets on the altar, and made cards in honor of the deceased. "We honor them and what they did," said Melissa Davis, a fourth-grader in Davis-Castro's class.
Alton Cheek, former Guy B. Phillips Middle School's principal, also was honored on the class' display. "As educators we know about it and read about it," said Davis-Castro of the former principal's death. "It was very personal. The kids here know about it and heard about it."
The altar celebrates the lives of the dead and gives the children a chance to honor their memory. Despite the holiday's focus on death, it is more of a time for celebration. "It's not sad, and it's not scary," Davis-Castro said.
Unlike Halloween, the holiday is not meant to be frightening. Davis-Castro said she shows the cultural differences between Halloween and the Day of the Dead to her students.
"It's a great holiday for comparing and contrasting," Davis-Castro said.
Principal Randy Marshall said this holiday also gives Hispanic students a chance to get to share their culture. "This gives a special tie to our large Hispanic population in the school," Marshall said. "It gives the non-Hispanic students a chance to understand another culture and to have a greater appreciation."
The students also will celebrate the holiday with a party. Students will have the chance to try traditional food eaten during the holiday, such as pan de muertos and hot chocolate, Davis-Castro said. "The more elementary kids can do stuff and participate, the more they appreciate it."
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