Día de los Muertos and All Saints Day class celebrations

French teacher Michelle McRay and Spanish teacher Jan Good-Bollinger share the importance of cultural celebrations in school

Payton Ross, JAG reporter/photographer

From Monday, Nov. 1 to Thursday, Nov. 4 Spanish and French students learned about different cultural holidays and celebrated them in the classroom. Día de los Muertos celebrations occurred from Monday, Nov. 1 to Tuesday, Nov. 2. Spanish teacher Jan Good-Bollinger shares the background behind this Mexican holiday. 

“It’s a blend of Catholic traditions of All Saints day as well as Aztec traditions. What happened is that those two came together and so it’s a remembering of people that have passed away but it is truly in the tone of celebration of life,” Good-Bollinger explained. “The idea is that every year the souls come back to visit. Families will set up ofrendas in their house with pedals of marigolds leading up to the altar.” 

The French holiday All Saints Day occurred Monday, Nov. 1. French Teacher Michelle McRay shares how her class celebrated this holiday. 

“I wanted the kids to have a way to get in the spirit of Halloween here but also learn about French culture,” McRay said. “I decorated my room like a graveyard because I also taught the students about famous graveyards around France, such as Père Lachaise which has tons of famous people buried there.” 

McRay and Good-Bollinger share some of the activities included in their celebrations. 

“I gave them five tombstones where there was information like when they were born, when they died, how many children, their career, what they were known for, cause of death and where they’re buried written in French,” McRay said. “The students had to answer all the questions in English and there was a code and once they figured out all the codes they could plug it in and figure out their name.”

“We also did art pieces such as drawings of skeletons where students had to write sentences about it,” Good-Bollinger said. “Partly because a very important part of Día de los Muertos is all the art that deals with skeletons and we were inspired especially by a particular artist who’s been famous for about a century of all of his skeleton artwork. 

McRay shares more background about this French holiday.

“La Toussaint or All Saints day is a historical celebration in France that dates back to the 800s,” McRay said. “It is a day to celebrate all the saints which is how it originated. It has evolved overtime to just celebrating the people who have passed on.”

There are many different traditions incorporated into both holidays.

“An [All Saints Day] tradition is to place a specific flower called the Chrysanthemum on the tombstone of a loved one,” McRay said. “I taught them about it and we did activities surrounding that in the prior days.”

“The typical traditions [of Día de los Muertos] are of course remembering loved ones, keeping vigils in cemeteries and having a party,” Good-bollinger said. “They also put photos of that loved one on the ofrenda, which I think is very special.”

Good-Bollinger shared her favorite dish brought by her students. 

“Our department decided to keep it simple so we had students bring in sweet breads, pan dulce, Mexican candies, sodas and fruits,” Good-Bollinger said. “Some people made some homemade churros which were very good and some people brought in pan dulce which is sweet bread with a sugar coating on top.” 

National French week will be held Wednesday, Nov. 3 to Tuesday, Nov. 9, which will include “Dress French” day this Friday, Nov. 6. There will also be a QR code located around the building to test students’ knowledge of French words used in everyday English, prizes will also be included. 

“National French week is a way to reach out to the whole school about French. I am going to allow the students some extra credit to share some information about France and French culture with the whole school,” McRay said, “We have some more stuff to come and I’m looking to do some more activities around the school.”

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