Mexico: Day of The Dead Shrine Boxes // 5th grade


Day of The Dead is one of my favorite holidays. To most Americans, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is the “Mexican Halloween.” While this isn’t the case, the vast majority of folks don’t know the actual origins and meanings of the holiday.

The spiritual ritual dates back 3,000 years, and it has outlasted more than 500 years of colonization.

During the old days, Dia de los Muertos was practiced during the ninth month of he Aztec solar calendar, and it went on for a full month. However, in an attempt to convert the natives to Catholicism, the Spanish colonizers moved the celebration to November 1 and 2 (All Saints Day), which is when we celebrate it currently. While the rituals involved in the celebrations have retained some Catholic elements, the indigenous roots of the celebration are extremely prevalent. 

Altars usually include photos of the deceased and marigold flowers, which symbolize death. We leave offerings like pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) and water to give our loved ones nourishment and strength on their journey. Clay calaveras sit on altars. They include beautiful flowers and designs to show that death shouldn’t be feared or shown in a morbid light.

Altars also hold candles, which are used to guide souls to our altars, along with burning incense, resin or herbs like copal oro and sage. They can also have statues of deities like Virgen de Guadalupe or Santa Muerte, the personification of death, who was modeled after the Aztec goddess of the underworld, Mictecacuhuatl.



  •  Students will select the known qualities of a literary character and create an environment that describes the personality, surroundings, feelings and lifestyle of that character in non-verbal, visual statements.
  •  Students will create a 3-dimensional mixed media collage that will function as a wall sculpture.


  • Look at examples of Mexican Nichos on the web. Many examples are religious, some are humorous, and materials used vary from elaborate tooled metal and gems to recycled materials and found objects.
  • Discuss the ways that a very ordinary object can become something of great value and importance when placed in a particular setting.


Day of The Dead by Tony Johnston

Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh



"Dia Des Los Muertos" by Ringling College of Art & Design