Bilingual is Better

talking to kids about day of the dead death Dia de muertos

For years now we’ve been talking about and celebrating the Day of the Dead festivities on SpanglishBaby, but this is the first year I’m finally going all out with Camila since I feel she can now get a better grasp of what it means. My plan is for us to put an altar together for the bisabuelos and bisabuela she never met. We’re also invited to a party this Saturday where all families have been asked to dress up as a comparsa, meaning we’ll all have a costume under one same theme.

We thought it would be so fun to get our faces painted as Día de Muertos calaveras and dress up as mariachis! I wasn’t sure how Camila would react to that since it wasn’t her typical princess theme. I told her one night and she immediately said no way. I responded: “¡Va ser divertido! Vamos a celebrar el Día de Muertos como en el libro de Rosita y Conchita que te gusta tanto.”

And that’s where I messed up.

She didn’t know what to say because, yes, she loves that book, but I had used the word “Muertos.” We put her to bed and all was beautiful, until she started getting up. Her pajama itched, she was thirsty, she couldn’t sleep. ¡Miles de excusas! Or so I thought.

The next morning she woke up and finally admitted that she couldn’t sleep because she thought that “todos vamos a estar muertos.” Just like the character of Rosita está muerta in the beautiful book.

And that’s when I realized I had messed up!

As much as she adores the book and she can embrace the traditions and colors behind Día de Muertos, we hadn’t done a great job at explaining to her more about the concept of death. She’s only five, you know?

So this year, teaching my daughter about one of the most beautiful cultural celebrations from part of her heritage, has also opened up a conversation about life and death, but even more than that, her own inner exploration of it. Which is fine. It’s an important one to explore without fear.

We will for sure put up an altar this year and attend as many festivities as we can so that we can transform that fear into an embrace of the inevitable. For some parents it’s too much to talk to their kids about deep life concepts, but I truly believe that when a child is asking or expressing the need to know, then they are ready.

I’d love to know if you’ve had any similar stories and how you dealt with it. Please share in the comments below.

And while we’re on the topic, I’ve written an article on my Babble Voices blog on how to teach our children about the symbolisms and objects that make the Day of the Dead celebration so special that you should check out.

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