A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Students use colorful kites, milk jug ‘skulls’to honor Latin culture, memory of loved ones


The Spanish honor society at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington created an altar display for 'Day of the Dead' at the Old Episcopal Burying Ground. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

The Spanish honor society at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington created an altar display for Day of the Dead at the Old Episcopal Burying Ground. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

 

By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward
 
Students who ventured into the Old Episcopal Burying Ground on the Day of the Dead said the traditions and symbolism of this Latin American holiday are nothing to fear. “To a lot of outsiders it seems morbid, but they’re celebrating the memory of their loved ones,” said Angela Wei, a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington.
 
Angela and about 10 classmates in the Spanish honor society were among groups that set up altar displays in the cemetery for Lexington’s ninth annual festival, hosted by the Living Arts & Science Center.
 

   Students of all ages from Fayette and surrounding counties gathered outside and inside the Living Arts & Science Center for face painting, crafts, fashion displays and other activities. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

Students of all ages from Fayette and surrounding counties gathered outside and inside the Living Arts & Science Center for face painting, crafts, fashion displays and other activities. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

The Dunbar gravesite featured flowers, fruits, gourds and candles, with beans arranged in the shape of skulls. Each year, the honor society’s display tends toward general motifs and styles of decorations, rather than specifics such as a person’s favorite foods.
 
Meanwhile, youngsters in the art club and Spanish club at Southern Elementary colored pictures of skulls and set out religious icons and votive candles. And nearby, a Spanish Immersion Program group from Maxwell and Northern elementaries and Bryan Station High put up a colorful canopy, draped an obelisk with flowers, and set out gallon milk jugs cut and painted as skulls. Tates Creek Middle and Clays Mill Elementary students also participated.
 
“The belief is that the art shows they’re still remembered and appreciated,” said Dunbar senior Samuel Wycoff. “The dead live on through the people they’ve influenced, so we can perpetuate their life after they’ve passed away. It’s really a cool experience.”
 

Along with the altars, the Night of the Angels festival offered rich visual, musical, dance and culinary experiences of the holiday, which is celebrated in Mexico and parts of Central and South America. “We really like showcasing the different art forms and traditions. It’s trying to educate the community and let them know this is not just Mexico’s version of Halloween,” said Heather Lyons, executive director of the Living Arts & Science Center. “It’s actually much more related to our Memorial Day – just more colorful.”
 

Several other schools, such as Crawford Middle, contributed kites for the outdoor display. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

Several other schools, such as Crawford Middle, contributed kites for the outdoor display. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

Students of all ages from Fayette and surrounding counties, along with their families, turned out on the blustery Saturday evening. While some prepared the burying ground for the candlelit parade, others gathered outside and inside the LASC for face painting, crafts, fashion displays and other activities.
 
Dancers from Cardinal Valley Elementary performed, and fourth-graders from Maxwell guided the making of “God’s eye” yarn weavings. “They learn a lot about cultural differences and the way that other countries may celebrate,” Lyons said. “It really opens their eyes to all the different ways you can create ideas through music and song and dance and art.”
 
“There’s a lot to be learned from this holiday,” Lyons added. “It isn’t at all about being sad and gloomy or scary. It’s just a positive, happy time and a healthy way to look at death and dying.”
 
This year’s community art project was based on the Guatemalan tradition of flying giant colorful kites over the village cemetery in Santiago Sacatepequez. “They make enormous kites and work on them for months. The belief is that by flying these kites high in the air, they’re sort of reaching out to the spirits,” Lyons explained. Among the student groups participating were Lexington Traditional Magnet School, Crawford Middle, and Athens-Chilesburg, Glendover and William Wells Brown elementaries.
 
At Crawford, teacher Margaret Van Hook Stevens recently led a sixth-grade unit on the culture of Latin America and students spent two weeks on the Day of the Dead in Spanish class, so the LASC festival offered an opportunity to reinforce those lessons. The kite-making also gave them a chance to create artwork for display in the wider community. After a field trip to LASC, the sixth-graders made 16×16-inch kites using materials like trash bags and bamboo fondue skewers, and explained the meaning behind their designs.
 
Meanwhile, eighth-graders from Lexington Traditional Magnet School created about 50 diamond-shaped kites, mostly decorated with skulls. “Thinking about the positives of when someone was alive reassures that you can continue the life cycle,” said Spanish teacher Veronica Randall. “The kids like the idea of communicating with people they love.”
 

Tammy L. Lane is a media and communications specialist with the Fayette County Public Schools.


Related Posts

Leave a Comment