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Celebrating Death and Life with an International Twist

Remembering loved ones who have gone before us will be marked in a new way at St. Michael's College School (SMCS) this academic year, at the altar of a Mexican Indigenous-Catholic ritual.

"Día de Muertos [Day of the Dead] is celebrated on November 1 and 2, All Saints Day and All Souls' Day holidays in the Catholic calendar," says Georgina Garcia Garcia, languages, math, and science teacher at SMCS.

The commemoration at SMCS marks a first for the school. 

SMCS students building an altar to mark Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Members of the SMCS Spanish Club in the process of building an altar to mark Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) on November 1 and 2.

"According to this tradition, the beloved ones who have died can find the way back to their families if they are always remembered and loved," says Garcia Garcia, who is also moderator of the school's Spanish Club. "Families build an altar in their honour and to help them find the way back."

As part of the festivities, members of the Spanish Club will build an altar, with ofrendas (offerings) to honour the deceased.

With its roots tracing back to the Aztec people some 3,000 years ago, the Day of the Dead has evolved from a ritual by Indigenous Peoples in Mexico to a tradition across Latin America.

SMCS student with ofrendas (offerings) to remember the departed for Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead).
The tradition of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) involves making ofrendas (offerings) to remember the departed.

"Día de Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with activities the dead enjoyed in life," continues Garcia Garcia. "It combines Indigenous and Catholic rituals, currently unifying diverse communities in a common celebration of the departed life. The goal is to remind us of the importance of love, life, and death."

Benjamin Tubbe, a Grade 11 student, is a member of the Spanish Club.

"What surprised me was that despite the misleading name, the Day of the Dead is actually a day of happiness and celebration," he says. "The celebrations are meant to memorialize and reconnect with those loved ones who have passed by welcoming back their souls with an altar, music, and food."

In 2003, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) included the annual ritual to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

SMCS students built an altar to remember departed loved ones for (Day of the Dead).
Image courtesy of: monsebarajaszavala from Pixabay

Bringing the tradition to life at SMCS comprises faith, culture, and inclusion, among others lessons.

"The impetus for marking this day in this way is to create an opportunity for the Spanish Club members to share their understanding and appreciation of one of the most significant Catholic traditions in the Mexican culture, Día de Muertos," says Garcia Garcia.

For his part, Benjamin adds, "I hope that students learn that Día de Muertos is not the same as Halloween. Although the theme involves death, the point is to demonstrate love and respect for deceased family members."

SMCS students and the Spanish Club in front of the altar they built to mark Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Spanish Club members along with their teacher moderator and parent volunteer with their altar display.

In addition to building an altar, the nine-member Spanish Club will create a video explaining the significance, the symbolism, and other facts around the ritual.

Grade 12 student, Eric Strube-Garcia, who is now in his second year as a member of the Spanish Club, looks forward to what the SMCS student body takes away from the presentation.

“I hope they learn about what other people celebrate and why,” he says, adding, "learn about other celebrations.”

For Benjamin, participation in this initiative and in the club have been impactful.

"It is a great opportunity to help me learn the language through immersion and to learn new cultures and traditions from the many Spanish speaking countries that span across the globe," he says. "Through the Spanish Club, I have also gained a broader world view which is a very important perspective to have."

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