Learning the history of Dia De Los Muertos

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Around 200 children took a field trip to a cemetery on Thursday to learn the meaning of Dia de los Muertos. The students from five Catholic schools in East Los Angeles gathered at Calvary Cemetery for a theological lesson and Dia de los Muertos-themed arts and crafts organized by the Archdiocese of LA

The holiday is dedicated to those who have died and is generally celebrated between Halloween, Oct. 31, through Nov. 2. It coincides with the Catholic holy days of All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day on Nov. 2. 

Giovanni Perez, the consultant for elementary catechesis at the Office of Religious Education in the Archdiocese of LA, says that it is important for children to know the “theological background” of the Day of the Dead. The students learned the origins of the celebration which traces back to the indigenous peoples of Latin America. 

Each school built an altar inside the cemetery’s mausoleum and had it blessed by the priest. The altars are built to honor the lives of those who have passed. They typically feature candles, marigold flowers, incense, photos of the deceased, pan de muerto (bread of the dead), sugar skulls, ceramics, water, fresh fruit and other types of foods. Marigolds, which are referred to as the “flower of the dead,” were sprinkled on and around the altars. 

“These altars are a beautiful representation and reminder that God is the Lord of life and that God is the one who gave his life to us and gives life after death,” said Ernesto Vega, the Spanish coordinator of adult faith formation in the Office of Religious Education in the Archdiocese of LA. 

Vega says he hopes that the students become aware of the spirituality and faith that is involved in the celebration of the Day of the Dead. 

After their theology lessons, the students got crafty. They created paper flowers and decorated sugar skulls and picture frames with photos of the deceased. 

Joshua Vivas, a fifth grader at Resurrection Catholic School, made a frame for his cousin. 

“My cousin died and he should be 18 [years old],” he said. 

The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of LA is hosting a Dia de los Muertos celebration on Sunday, Nov. 1 from 1 to 6 p.m. at Calvary Cemetery. The free event will feature live music, traditional altars, art exhibits, food and more. 

By Whitney Ashton