El Día de los Muertos has its roots in Aztec culture. According to Aztec mythology, the Queen of the Underworld, Mictecacihuatl, keeps watch over the bones of the dead and presides over festivals to remember and honor ancestors. Some people believe that this time of year, the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, is when the souls of the dead can most easily visit the living. The mood of Day of the Dead festivals is joyous and celebratory rather than solemn or grave.
Create or print out this simple papel picado pattern (pdf) with lots of negative space (i.e., the space between bones on a skeleton). Use tissue paper and cut out the negative space leaving a lace-like diced paper pattern. Glue the tissue paper pattern onto another colorful piece of paper for display. Mount this paper folk art on the wall or string as flag banners.
Calavara Puppet or Mask
Draw or print out this calavera skull mask pattern. Color and decorate with vibrant colors. Embellish with glitter or sequins. Cut out the eyes of the calavera, skull, and affix a string for a mask or stick for a puppet.
The traditional flor de muerto, flower of the dead, is the orange marigold, which is used to decorate an altar and attract the souls of the dead. To make a paper flower, layer 4 sheets of 8-inch square tissue papers and fold them accordion style. Cut a small notch on each side at the center of the folded accordion and wrap the notched center with the end of a pipe cleaner to create the flower stem. Gently pull up and fluff each layer of tissue paper to create the flower.
More Day of the Dead Activities
El Día de los Muertos is a happy day to remember departed loved ones. It is not a day of mourning. Some people celebrate deceased children on November 1 as El Día de los Inocentes, and deceased adults on November 2 as El Día de los Difuntos.
Set Up an Altar: Clear a spot on a table or shelf. Place photos or drawings of beloved ancestors along with memorial objects and offerings, ofrendas, such as favorite foods or treasured items that belonged to the ancestor.
Visit a Grave: Go to a grave, former home, or favorite place of an ancestor and decorate, enjoy a picnic, and have a conversation with the departed loved one.
El Día de los Muertos is not a day of mourning like Memorial Day, nor is it a spooky day like Halloween. It is a joyous celebration of remembrance.