Use this simple explanation of the Day of the Dead for children to begin learning about this Mexican festival. Plus, try our Day of the Dead crafts and art projects.
What is the Day of the Dead? for children
Introduce your children to the Mexican festival of Dia de los Muertos with this simple explanation of the Day of the Dead. This article is part of our Day of the Dead activities and crafts resources.
In this article, you can:
:: learn about the Mexican festival of the Day of the Dead
:: read about how the festival is celebrated
:: find links to more Day of the Dead activities and crafts
Day of the Dead book
Save time and teach better by using our Day of the Dead book.
You’ll get a complete set of lesson plans to learn about this festival and a collection of activities, arts, and crafts all planned for you: instant download, printables included, no prep needed, and all ad free.
Ready-made Day of the Dead Unit
If you’re a member of our Play Academy you can download a ready-made five day Day of the Dead Unit and you’ll be ready to lead a week of fun and educational Day of the Dead activities with your children.
This Unit is part of our Festivals specialist curriculum pathway, and is a part of a set of ready-made units you can use to teach your children about the festivals of the world all through the year. Based on the teaching philosophy of hands-on learning, the Play Academy festivals curriculum is engaging, effective and loved by children.
See more details of this Day of the Dead Unit, and all the other specialist curriculum pathways and ready-made units you can choose from, in the Play Academy here.
What is the Day of the Dead?
The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a festival celebrated in Mexico and in areas of the world with large Hispanic communities. It is special time when ancestors are celebrated.
The festival is held around November 2nd each year.
It is a time to remember and pray for family and friends who have died. The modern-day festival mixes traditions from the Aztec, Toltec, and Nahua people with Catholic customs. It is a lively celebration, with music, dressing up and special foods.
The meaning of the festival
The Day of the Dead is a time to re-connect with loved ones who have died. The festival celebrates their lives and teaches that death is a natural phase in life’s long journey.
People observing the festival believe that on this one night in the year the spirits of those who have died return for one night to celebrate and connect with their family.
Decorating the festival
In preparation for the festival altars are built to remember family and friends who have died. Special altars, called ofrendas, are created to honour a particular person. Graves are also cleaned and decorated.
The altars are beautifully decorated with bright colours. Photographs of the person being honoured are placed on the altar, along with candles, food and drink.
The symbols of the festival include skeletons, called calacas, and skulls, called calaveras. You will see many skull shaped decorations, masks, dolls, and sweets/candies. The skulls and skeletons are dressed in fine clothes and have beautifully decorated faces.
The skeletons and skulls are associated with a quote attributed to José Guadalupe Posada which says:
Todos somos calaveras.
This translates as ‘we are all skeletons.’ It reflects the idea that we are all the same. Whether we are rich or poor, dress simply or in fancy clothes, under everything else, all people are ultimately the same.
Orange marigold flowers and papel picardo paper-flag bunting are also used as decorations. Many people dress up as skeletons and paint their faces as beautifully decorated skulls.
Food for the festival
Pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, is baked for the festival. It is a sweet bread, often flavoured with anise and decorated with dough shaped as bones and skulls.
Sugar skulls are eaten. Atole, which is a corn-based thin porridge drink flavoured with sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla, is popular. Other festival drinks include pulque, made from agave, and hot chocolate.
Day of the Dead Mini Book
Make your own mini Day of the Dead book to record all that you are learning about the festival.
:: Mini book printable. You can download this printable from either the Day of the Dead book or from the Day of the Dead Unit in the Play Academy membership.
:: pens and pencils
:: craft knife (optional)
Print the mini book and use colourful pens and pencils to complete it.
Colour the title pages.
Draw skulls, skeletons, papel picardo and marigolds.
Make notes about the festival, altars, and decorations.
Cut around the outside of the book.
Use a craft knife, or scissors, to also cut along the darker-shaded line in the centre of the book.
You might like to use a ruler and craft knife to lightly score the other lines of the book, so your book creases neatly when you fold it.
The book is assembled using a French fold technique.
Fold along the long centre line.
Pull out the two central sections.
Press down on all the crease lines to fold all the pages into place.
You can see a video guide on how to fold your book here.
More Day of the Dead activities
See all our Day of the Dead activities and crafts for children including marigold math activities, papel picardo letter games, and sugar skill art projects.