Archive for Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Hillcrest fifth-graders honor relatives on Day of the Dead

November 3, 2004


Tiny sugar coffins tinted pink and orange, chrysanthemums and a Snickers bar surrounded Joan Henrichs' photo.

Her grandson set up the altar for his deceased grandmother in his fifth-grade class at Hillcrest School.

"It's sad in a way, but it feels good that we're celebrating," said 10-year-old Logan Henrichs, whose class observed the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead on Tuesday.

Gilbert Gonsalez's fifth-grade class celebrated el Dia de Los Muertos, the day when the souls of the deceased are welcomed back to Earth. The holiday is based on ancient Aztec beliefs later fused with Catholic rituals.

"It's a way of remembering -- not in a sad way; it's a very festive activity," Gonsalez said.

Mexicans honor the dead on Nov. 1, when the souls of dead children are believed to arrive, and on Nov. 2, when adults are believed to return.

In Mexico, the holiday is celebrated with meals, songs and prayers, both at home and in cemeteries.

Tombstones are illuminated by candles and laden with orange marigolds.

They also are piled high with the favorite foods of the deceased, including small skulls made of sugar, and "bread of the dead": round, sugar-sprinkled loaves topped with strips of crust symbolizing bones and a knob representing the skull.

The holiday also has spread to neighboring Latin American countries and the United States.

On Tuesday, Gonsalez and Lilly Rosales de Garcia, the mother of one of Gonsalez's students, set up an altar.

Some of Gonsalez's students adorned the altar with photos of deceased loved ones. They also brought offerings.

Logan said he brought a mini Snickers because his grandmother loved chocolate.

"She played a lot of sports with us. She kicked the soccer ball with us," he said.

Rosales de Garcia, a 29-year-old office assistant, said she started celebrating the Day of the Dead about two years ago.

She said she didn't believe spirits really came back to earth to eat and drink from the altars. But celebrating the holiday with her husband and children is a nice way to remember their heritage and their loved ones.

"We have a very complex culture in Mexico," she said. "We need to keep our culture."

-- Journal-World wire services contributed to this report.

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