Skeletons were smiling

Published 10:04 am Saturday, November 3, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – Spanish students in Sarah Essex's class at Brandywine High School traded a week of spooky skeletons and scary skulls to celebrate one of Mexico's biggest holidays -Dia de los Mertos – also known as Day of the Dead.
Unlike the American version of "Halloween," the Mexican holiday is a celebration of death and honoring family members, friends and ancestors who have passed away. It allows opportunity to reflect upon our lives, our heritage, our ancestors and the meaning and purpose of our own existence."
"It's not only important for the students to learn other languages, but they need to understand the culture of other countries as well," Essex said.
In light of the holiday, Essex spent the entire week teaching her students about Day of the Dead.
Students enjoyed watching films, making skeletons, bags of bones and skulls that were happy instead of mean and scary, and on Friday, students enjoyed homemade bread, Pan de los Muertos with orange peel, which is often one of many different items left at a loved one's grave. They also enjoyed hot chocolate with cinnamon.
"I have been teaching here for the past 15 years and for the past 14, I have had some sort of celebration for Day of the Dead and bring in food that represents Mexico," Essex said.
Students Courtney Craft, Shannon Chamberlain, Katelyn Robbins and Catherine Brock all said they have enjoyed learning about the holiday and the differences it has with Halloween.
"They don't mourn death like we do. They look at it as a celebration," Craft said.
"Our Halloween is more about blood, gore and scaring people. The Day of the Dead is a celebration. They take time to recognize and celebrate the death of their family members," Chamberlain added.
Craft added that people actually decorate altars, grave sites and have big parades honoring those who have passed on to another life.
Robbins said the flower of the dead is the marigold, which represents strong smells which are used to invoke the spirit of the deceased. She said people use it to decorate, as well as skeletons, bones and skulls.
The Day of the Dead has been celebrated since 1800 B.C. and is meant to honor the deceased, not focus on the fear or morbidity typically associated with Halloween.
The Day of the Dead is actually made up of three separate holidays: Halloween on Oct. 31, All Saint's Day on Nov. 1 and All Soul's Day on Nov. 2.