Is it a coincidence that the pagan-based Halloween falls around the time of Mexico’s holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)? History says probably. Our Halloween is likely more closely connected to the Christian feast All Hallow’s Eve, and to pagan traditions from Celtic-speaking countries.
That Halloween has become a mainly commercial celebration (a time for children to gorge on treats full of refined sugar and artificial flavours/colours) is rather sad. I’m all for chocolate and candy (hey, I’ve already broken into our box of mini chocolate bars!), but I’m increasingly interested in ways that we can bring back a more traditional meaning to the day.
Westerners are notoriously fearful of death. Death is always tragic and heartbreaking. We feel at a loss when comforting friends and family – what’s the right thing to say? The fact that we’re no longer flocking to organized religion for guidance means that many of us feel spiritually deprived or unsure of our beliefs.
This issue hit me smack in the nose the other night when my daughter suddenly began discussing death (why do these conversations always happen right before bedtime?) She began getting very scared, and wondered what she would do if Mommy and Daddy died. I tried to answer her questions and calm her fears, but I felt inadequate.
Google “how to talk to your kids about death” and you’ll come up with thousands of articles. Most of the advice is good – state facts as simply as possible, and don’t make stuff up (e.g. “Grandma has gone to sleep.”) But rarely do I find articles that put a positive spin on death. On Dia de los Muertos, you might see skulls and skeletons, but people are not scared. In fact, they’re having fun! They dress in costumes, share food, create representations of skulls and skeletons, and give offerings to their departed loved ones.
I’m sure Mexicans who celebrate Dia de los Muertos still feel sad when family members or friends die. But instead of the usual hush-hush and gloom that surrounds the death, there is instead a celebration of life – and a strong belief that a loved one is in a good place.
So here are a few ideas on how to integrate death and dying into your Halloween celebrations – in a way that kids will understand and enjoy!
- Check out Pinterest for some great Dia De Los Muertos craft ideas
- Take your kids to see the movie The Book of Life – set on the Day of the Dead, I’m sure the film will provide a jumping off point for discussions about death
- If you’re a parent interested in having an open and honest discussion about death, join the Death Cafe Ottawa! (next cafe night is November 5th)
- If your kids are old enough, pay a visit to the grave or memorial of a loved one. Bring bunches of colourful flowers, and ask your kids to make an offering (see the craft ideas above)
- Before heading out trick or treating on Halloween, prepare a yummy feast (doesn’t have to be Mexican food!) Take a moment for each person to say what they cherish about their life – death is also about life after all!
Do you celebrate Dia de las Muertos?
The Canada Science and Technology Museum is closed for repairs, but your kids can still get their science “fix” at Science Funfest.
Held annually as part of National Science and Technology Week in October, this FREE event features more than 70 interactive activities for your budding young Einstein, with hands on experiences in energy, forestry, mining, geology, mapping, astronomy and agriculture.
As Funfest veterans, my kids (ages 4 and 8) recommend:
• Bringing in your favourite rocks and fossils for identification
• Mining chocolate chip “ore” from a cookie “mine” (HINT: choose your tools wisely and clean up the mine site for biggest profits!)
• Creating colourful spin art using solar energy
• Seeing glaciers shrink over time in satellite pictures from space
• Getting up close and personal with snakes, bugs, and spiders – (parents may be interested in meeting the Emerald Ash Borer; the invasive insect ravaging Ottawa’s ash trees)
• Jumping up and down to make an earthquake that can be measured by a seismometer
• Spinning the wheel for a skill-testing question in the food safety quiz (…how safe is the food in your lunch box by noon?)
• Trying your hand – and eyes! – at land surveying and star-gazing
• Starting a chemical reaction to make custom-coloured slime to take home
There are plenty of free giveaways at Science Funfest, so make sure you pick up a complementary “swag bag”. Balloons, face-painting, and Natural Resources Canada’s huge green mascot “NRCat” make it fun for even the littlest ones!
Science Funfest takes place rain or shine on Sunday, October 19 from 11am-4pm at Natural Resources Canada’s Booth Street Complex (on the corner of Booth Street and Carling Avenue across from Dow’s Lake). Dress warmly as some activities are outdoors in tents. Parking is free, and there are a few concessions on site.
Have you been to Science Funfest? What’s your favourite activity? Let me know in the comments.
Wendy is a freelance copywriter in Ottawa and a totally unbiased employee of the Earth Sciences Sector at Natural Resources Canada.
Phew, what a week! The blog’s been quiet while I was away at the Birth and Beyond Conference in London, Ontario. I’m back now, and dealing with all the email and work that’s piled up in my absence
One thing on my mind this past week was Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving has always been a special time for my family. As a child, I spent the weekend up in Haliburton, Ontario at my grandfather’s cottage. Cold nights by the fire, marshmallows, canoe trips on the lake, and going for wheelbarrow rides (which ended by getting dumped in a pile of leaves at the bottom of the drive).
We’re far from Haliburton here in Ottawa, but we share the vibrant colours and crisp sunny days with cottage country. I’m motivated to plan fun activities for my family to do while I’ve got three days off. Here’s a list of the ideas I’ve gathered:
1) For families with older kids – a Haunted Village at Cumberland Heritage Village Museum.
2) A hike in Gatineau Park to see the Fall colours.
3) If you’re up for a full day, you could pair your hike with a trip to a Quebec cranberry farm.
4) A walk along the Mer Bleu Bog Trail.
5) If you have a babysitter or are kid-free, you may want to get that last round of golf in!
6) The Ottawa Farmer’s Market is still open and it’s hopping! I’m planning on heading there on Sunday to stock up on veggies for soups and stews.
7) A country fair is perfect for this time of year! The Pontiac Country Fair is taking place in Gatineau Park this weekend.
8) Pumpkin patch! Saunders Farm, Millers Farm, and Cannamore Orchard are a few popular places.
9) Thanksgiving Weekend activities at the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum.
10) Help others in need by making a donation to your local food bank!
What do you do Thanksgiving weekend?