Dia de los Muertos Celebration
On Tuesday, students at The Priory celebrated Día de los Muertos – Day of the Dead – with face painting, a special chapel service to honor relatives who have passed away, and the option of cultural dress. The Mexican celebration takes place on November 1-2 and coincides with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. The school celebrated the tradition on October 30 to coincide with its weekly Tuesday service in The Cathedral of St. Andrew.
As part of the Stevens Global Leadership program and its objectives, students at The Priory are encouraged to develop an awareness of and respect for religious, cultural, geopolitical and historical backgrounds that shape individual viewpoints, including their own. This benchmark was prevalent throughout the celebration and the activities leading up to it.
In a multidisciplinary effort, students and teachers across campus have been gearing up for the event for a couple of weeks. World Languages teacher Nydia Santiago-Cordero and Art Instructor Alethia Donathan have been teaching the students about Mexican customs, art and culture and have played a vital role in ensuring the event was authentic and educational.
"Since this was the first year that we are doing a big scale event outside of the Spanish classroom many students didn't have much information beforehand," Santiago-Cordero said. "I wanted them to know that it is not Mexican Halloween and understand the true meaning behind it. This was a wonderful opportunity for a teaching moment."
Activities in the classroom included making maracas to play, creating paper flowers for their headdresses, learning and playing games – while listening to the soundtrack from the Disney movie "Coco" – and learning Spanish language.
A special bilingual chapel service
This year's special chapel service was conducted in both Spanish and English and was spearheaded by Chaplain Annalise Pasalo, who is Mexican-American. She wanted to share her customs with students and teach them about the true meaning of the celebration to honor family who has passed away. She says it's an opportunity to celebrate their life and encouraged students to bring pictures of their loved ones to place on the ofrenda – a special altar of remembrance – in the chapel during Tuesday's service.
Adorning the ofrenda were elements of Mexican culture and marigolds – which are hard to find in Hawai'i – grown from Donathan's garden. The Día de los Muertos tradition started with the Aztecs, who would leave marigolds out because they believed that the fragrance would guide ancestors back to the living world. Their favorite foods, drinks and things they loved in life were placed on the ofrenda for them.
After students placed photos of loved ones, including pets who have passed on, Pasalo started the service by asking the students what they already knew about the holiday. She shared background information about the holiday and shared stories of her own family's traditions. She told the students that her family had a bookshelf of photos of loved ones who had passed on and would talk about their characteristics and share stories. "They were more than pictures, these were people who we loved," she said.
Pasalo also talked about her grandfather, Robert Castro, who passed away in Oregon last year and how she cherishes the memories.
"He was someone I knew, someone I loved, and losing him made me understand this day so differently because it hurt," she said. "It hurt when I couldn't call him anymore and hear his voice. By honoring him, it is like he is still here."
She reminded students to be joyful and celebrate today "because our love really does last forever."
"I hope that students can appreciate the true meaning of this cultural celebration and reflect on their own family's traditions and the meanings behind them," Pasalo said.