By William Fleck
Liberty High School English Teacher
Halloween is not the only time the spirits may walk among us…at least, not at Liberty Middle School, where students in Cielo Canola-Murphy’s Spanish classes learn about El Dia de los Muertos by creating artistic displays.
According to Kristina Puga of NBC News, the origins of El Dia de los Muertos—or “Day of the Dead”—date back to the Aztecs, 3000 years ago. More recent celebratory customs come from central Mexico.
“It’s not meant to be a spooky holiday and it’s not Halloween,” Puga writes. “Those who celebrate it believe that at midnight on October 31, the souls of all deceased children come down from heaven and reunite with their families on November 1, and the souls of deceased adults come visit on November 2.”1
For Canola, a 9-year LMS veteran, teaching about the holiday addresses both academic and personal standards.
“As a Spanish teacher with Latino heritage I feel that it is important to share with my students the meaning of this holiday, which falls at the same time as Halloween, but is different since it does not include the same imagery, customs, or pumpkins,” she says. “El Dia de los Muertos is more of a memorial type of holiday. It’s a time to remember and honor ancestors, and celebrate their lives. This holiday is a very loving way to demonstrate how important they were—and still are—in the family and community.”
To that end, 8th graders at LMS make sugar skulls. They also create what Canola says are “amazing displays to understand and respect the different beliefs and traditions of the Latin-America culture.”
To do so, Canola reaches out to the community…in this case, sugar artist Kim Simons. Simons, a Liberty graduate who has appeared on The Food Network nearly a dozen times—and is a painter and sculptor in addition to being a Master Cake Artist—has taught art classes at BOCES and a slew of other venues, including Busch Gardens in Virginia.
“Kim is a friend of the family who is a cake artist, and she was excited to assist me in this amazing classroom project,” Canola notes. “Kim got involved a few years ago, and now—year after year—I can’t wait to work along with her and my 8th grade students.”
On October 29, Canola’s 8th graders worked on their displays in class. Simons brought in a specially designed 20-inch cookie of her own to inspire them, and the students followed suit by decorating cookies provided by Canola.
“I was able to demo for the class the way we do in the professional cookie world,” Simons explains. “The kids were able to follow, and they did some awesome creative work! I really enjoy doing this.”
The students were excited, as were the teachers.
“I want to thank Kim for helping with this amazing lesson,” Canola beams.
1 Puga, Kristina. “What’s El Dia de los Muertos? It’s Not Scary and It’s Not Halloween.” NBC News.com. November 1, 2017. Web.