jefferson dia de los muertos

A beautiful and vibrant Mexican tradition dating back 3,000 years has been brought to life in Jefferson Elementary School for Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead).

Traditionally on Nov. 1 and 2, families welcome back the souls of loved ones who have passed. The annual reunions include food, decorations, and celebration. Usually, families create an Ofrenda (an offering) in the form of an altar decorated with photographs of loved ones, and food offerings such as Pan de Muerto, fruit, and other foods that the deceased person enjoyed. The presentation also is usually adorned with cempasúchiles (marigolds), papel picado (Mexican perforated paper), velitas (candles), calaveras (skulls), and calacas (skeletons).

Jefferson’s Ofrenda included each of those components, and the cempasúchiles came from the school garden. For several weeks, many classes have been learning about this time of celebration from Spanish teacher Hilaire Escaladas. The Ofrenda came to life through the efforts of parent Angelica Guel, Principal Kimmerly Nieves (with Superintendent Jonathan Raymond in the photo), and other teachers.

Students and teachers contributed photos of deceased loved ones to honor them and allow their souls to visit. The Ofrenda not only is a wonderful educational experience for students, but also for community visitors because it opens up the door for conversations about a cultural tradition not familiar to all. “It is cool to see something I usually do with my grandma in my school,” said Danna, a fourth-grader.

These threads of celebration, from the classroom to its translation beyond the school walls, are about ownership and expression. “When families feel they belong to something that honors who they are, they embrace what their children are learning and weave it into their family’s life,” said ENL teacher Monica Argentina. 

Guel said of Día de Los Muertos, “We die three deaths. First when our bodies die, second when our bodies go in the ground and are out of sight, and third when our loved ones forget us.”

The Jefferson community learned that Día de los Muertos is a beautiful tradition as well as a remembrance of those who have passed on – making it a joyful celebration.