Kirkham Grammar School

Independent Co-Educational Day and Boarding School

Kirkham Grammar School Content Area

Day of the Dead Ofrenda

KGS celebrated the "Day of the Dead" today with First Years making masks and painting their faces.


Information about the Day of the Dead:

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a celebration of life and death. While the celebration originated in Mexico, it is celebrated all over Latin America, with colourful calaveras (skulls) and calacas (skeletons). It is an important Mexican celebration and is a day to celebrate, remember and prepare special foods to honour those who have departed. It is believed that the spirit of the dead visit their families at this time, which corresponds with the Christian All Souls Day. The celebrations last for 3 days beginning at the end of October. Ofrendas (or alters) are created and the gravestones of the deceased are decorated.

Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Ofrendas or altares (offerings or altars) are an essential part of the celebrations and are presented in most households throughout the land. Upon the Ofrendas are placed pictures of loved ones who have passed, along with lots of food and drink, which the deceased may have enjoyed during their lives. The Ofrenda is for remembrance and celebration of lives and not necessarily for worship at all.  

Skulls which are normally made out of sugar, are placed upon the Ofrenda or gravestone and represent a departed soul. They often have the name of the deceased written on the foreheads of the skulls and they are meant to honour the return of a particular spirit. Sugar skull art reflects the folk art style of the region. Colourful icing and sparkly tin and glittery adornments are often included on the skulls.

Every ofrenda also includes the four elements of water, wind, earth and fire. Water is left in a pitcher so that the spirits can quench their thirst. Various coloured Papel picados, (or traditional paper banners), represent the wind, while Earth is represented by food, especially the bread, and candles are lit to represent fire. The Ofrenda will also include fruit, tamales, mole, mescal and especially cempasuchils, (the Aztec term for “marigolds”, which grow and wilt quickly, reflecting the fleeting nature of life. Their aroma and golden yellow coulor is believed to lure a spirit back). Photos, magazines, cigars and of course, sugar skulls are also included.

Each colour used in the Day of the Dead papel picados (colourful paper banners), represents something unique. Yellow represents the power of light and life, purple, the Christian mourning, while black represents the pre-hispanic religion and white for innocence and purity.

For the Aztecs, skulls were a positive symbol, not only of death but also of rebirth. People in Mexico wear traditional skull masks, and the tradition of painting faces to look like skulls has grown up as a variation of this practice. Dia de los Muertos face-painting often mixes skulls with flowers.

La Calavera Catrina  is a zinc etching by the famous Mexican cartoon illustrator, José Guadalupe Posada. The image depicts a female skeleton, a high class woman dressed only in a hat and a veil. She has come to symbolise the Day of the Dead and the Mexican willingness to laugh at death itself. Death is seen in her as a neutralising force, where everyone is equal in the end.

The Aztec Day of the Dead tradition has become an amalgam of those original celebrations with those of Catholicism, but it has it’s origins in pre-Hispanic times, when native cultures considered death as a coupling that included life. In this ancestral vision, dying was the beginning of a journey to Mictlán, the kingdom of the dead. The gradual merging of Catholicism to the rituals meant that salt crosses also became included in the offerings. An eclectic mix of ritualistic symbols.