Day of the Dead - El Dia de los Muertos

Pa. students celebrate Mexican holiday of the dead

Pa. students celebrate Mexican holiday of the dead

November 03, 2005|By BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Here's a homework assignment you can sink your teeth in to.

Nicole Paci-Funk gave her Spanish students extra credit if they used a recipe from a Pampered Chef cookbook written in Spanish to make a dish and bring it to class for their Da de los Muertos celebration.

Several students took advantage of the offer, and Wednesday the class feasted on flan, tres leche (three-milk) cake and pan de muerto (bread of the dead).

Paci-Funk enjoys teaching about the Spanish culture as well as the language.

"That's my favorite part," she said. "Theirs, too."

Recently, her Greencastle-Antrim High School Spanish 3 and Spanish 4 classes have studied about the Mexican holiday Da de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.


An important holiday in Mexico, the celebration is a blend of ancient Aztec and Christian beliefs, Paci-Funk said.

"The point of the holiday is to remember loved ones who have passed away and to celebrate life. It's the opposite of Halloween. It's happy, not blood and guts."

While skeleton motifs are used in decorating and even in the shape of candy, they are always smiling and happy-looking, not scary, Paci said.

Preparations for the event, which is celebrated from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, take up much of October. Mexicans show love and respect for ancestors by weeding the cemeteries and cleaning, painting and decorating the tombs in preparation for a visit from the souls of the dead. The cemeteries are packed with people, many carrying candles.

The dead are invited back to their homes for a few hours of the pleasures they enjoyed when they were alive. Families set up altars with incense, candles, photos and the favorite foods of the deceased.

"The food goes stale, which shows the spirit of the dead person was there and enjoyed the food," Paci-Funk said.

Student Jade Dunhour, 17, said Da de los Muertos is "a time when everyone can remember (the dead) at the same time. You celebrate more if everyone is doing it. No one goes to work. The whole country has a party. They cook and they make special presents for the altars. Some are very elaborate, and fill a whole room."

Marigolds are considered the flower of the dead in Mexico, and truckloads of them are used on the graves and altars.

"People spend a lot of money on this (holiday)," Paci-Funk said. "They're celebrating the continuance of life. They'll have a church service and a special dinner."

The Spanish classroom is bright with Spanish-language travel posters and Garfield posters.

"This is not just a class where students sit and listen," Paci-Funk said. "It's very interactive."

After the students ate the Spanish food Wednesday, they got even more interactive - Paci-Funk led them in a traditional Da de los Muertos dance.

An added touch to the celebration was a T-shirt contest. The only rules were that Da de los Muertos and images pertaining to it had to be on the shirt.

The shirts were judged by other faculty members, Paci-Funk said.

Kelsey Thrush, 17, had flowers and sequins scattered over her prize-winning shirt.

"The Mexicans decorate with flowers," Kelsey said. "And I used sequins because it's a festive time."

Kelsey plans to continue her Spanish studies in college, where she will major in pre-med and minor in Spanish.

Many colleges require a Spanish minor with a major in international business, according to Whitney Fetterhoff, 17, who has applied to Georgetown for just that, she said. She also wants to study in Spain.

Cory Sheeley, 17, also will take Spanish in college.

"The language is important for mass communications majors," he said. "A journalist needs to know a lot of languages."

The only junior in the Spanish 4 class, Jamie Avery, plans to following Paci-Funk's footsteps and become a Spanish teacher.

"I'm from Ocean City, Md.," she said, "so I might go back there to teach."

She made a pineapple and chocolate stove-top cake for the event.

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