Niles High Spanish students hold ‘Day of Dead’ party

Published 8:09 pm Saturday, November 1, 2003

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- A group of Niles High School students taking Spanish have studied more than just the Spanish language over the last week.
The special occasion is the Day of the Dead, or El Dia de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2.
The holiday celebrates the dead and their spirits through religious rituals and festivals.
According to Casa de Unidad, a Detroit Hispanic/Latino not-for-profit cultural center, the holiday is a mixture of the ancient Mezo-American traditions and Spanish Catholicism.
Jennifer Schembri is the high school Spanish teacher behind the project.
She said the week long project ended on Friday when students presented their research and enjoyed food typically used during the holiday celebrations.
She said the most common misconception is that Day of The Dead, which the indigenous people of Mexico began celebrating 3000 years ago, is current-day Mexicans' way of celebrating Halloween.
For Matt Kelly, learning about the religious holiday seemed a little strange at first.
Having been in a study group that focused on the role of the altar and its meaning, Kelly said he now has a better overall understanding of the Mexican holiday.
He said the celebration is "nothing bad, they are just celebrating the spirits and remembering those who passed away."
Casondra Ritchie, another Spanish class student, thinks it's "weird" that the Hispanics celebrate death.
But learning about the celebration appears to have been a fascinating experience for her, too.
Day of the Dead is a celebration with a complex history and therefore its observances varies quite a bit by region and degree of urbanization.
Ricardo J. Salvador, an Associate Professor of Agronomy at the Iowa State University of Science and Technology, says in general, the more urban setting within Mexico, the less religious and cultural importance is retained by those who celebrate the holiday.
The more rural and Indian the locality, the greater the religious and economic importance the holiday has.
The Day of the Dead can range from a very important cultural event with definite social and economic responsibilities for participants.
But it can also be simply a unique Mexican holiday characterized by special foods and confections.
Schembri said it seems as if the Mexican holiday celebration is becoming more widespread in the U.S, too, and she thinks it's important people learn about the true meaning of the holiday.