North Surry High School students in Hope Ward’s Spanish 1 classes have been learning about El Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead — a Latin America observance taking place every Nov. 1-2.
On these two days people will honor and remember their loved ones who have died. Oftentimes they set up memorials called ofrendas in their homes or cemeteries.
Unlike Halloween, Day of the Dead is more of a festive, happy time. It is a time to pull out pictures of dead friends and relatives. Many who celebrate the day will place items that represented the departed around their pictures. It is a time to reminisce and tell stories of the deceased friends and relatives, ensuring that they are remembered by future generations.
This holiday is becoming more popular in the United States in recent years.
“Years ago I never saw anything for El Día de los Muertos in our area. Now I can go into local stores and buy items for this holiday,” said the Spanish teacher.
“I am sure that because of our state’s ever increasing Latino population that Day of the Dead has become more visible,” said Ward. “I even bought some pan de muerto or Day of the Dead bread at a local bakery in town here, so that my students may experience this staple of the holiday.”
At first many of her students were somewhat leery when introduced to the Day of the Dead. However, Ward said she often finds that students end up loving this holiday and its significance.
“I think in our culture, death is so final and it is somewhat scary. They (Latin Americans) grieve just like we do when they lose someone that they love. However, in Latin culture, our loved ones have their special day once a year. They will be celebrated and remembered once a year on the Day of the Dead.”
Senior Carrie Hawks did her Day of the Dead ofrenda on her grandpa, J.C. Berrier. She told the class about what her grandpa was like and some of the things he did in his life.
“He married my grandma when she was 15. He waited for her to get off the bus and they went and got married,” she told the class. Carrie told her classmates this story as well as a couple of others about her grandpa. Carrie took the opportunity to visit her grandfather’s grave during this time as well. She and her brother made a trip to where he was buried and talked about their memories of him.
Ward gives her students the opportunity to do their project on a famous person that has passed on if they don’t want to get as personal.
“I understand that their own culture doesn’t necessarily perceive death the same way that Latinos do and for some talking about someone they have lost makes them sad. However, for many, I almost feel like it becomes cathartic. They get to talk about a person that they love and miss. They get to tell others about that person.
“I also find that many students learn more about their relatives through this project. For example one of my students, Tess Ramey, found out that her grandfather, Roger Ramey, was one of the first members of the Skull Camp Fire Department. How cool is that?” Ward asked.