Day of the Dead: A Celebration of Life

Jennifer at her Aunt Dora's grave

On November 2, many of the children and families we work with remember loved ones who have died. It’s a very important celebration of life that, as compassionate donors who are investing in these communities, we wanted to share with you.

By November 2, American kids have stuffed their costumes—worn for one thrilling night—down into their dress-up boxes. They’ve sorted and traded their treats and have eaten their favorites first. But as kids in America wind down from their Halloween highs, kids in Nicaragua are just starting their fun. Today, they celebrate life on Day of the Dead.

Meet Jennifer

Twelve-year-old Jennifer lives in El Crucero, an urban area of Nicaragua. She earns a scholarship to attend seventh grade at a private school by helping out at a community preschool. After school, she goes to the Feed the Children facilities in her community, where she takes computer, music, English, and piano classes. Computer class is her favorite—she’s very tech savvy, and she wants to become a business administrator when she grows up because she’d like to work in an office and have her own employees. Jennifer has aspirations and drive—all she needs is opportunity. So that’s what we offer.

Unlike so many of the kids Feed the Children works with around the world, Jennifer has actually seen enough of what life can be to know what it should be.

Jennifer’s mom has a bachelor’s degree in marketing, but jobs are incredibly difficult to come by where they live, even for educated people, so right now she stays at home taking care of Jennifer’s 5-year-old twin sisters and the family’s small house. Jennifer’s dad went to school through sixth grade, and he works as a driver for a private company, earning about $152 a month to support their family of 5.

Jennifer’s family is Catholic, so Day of the Dead, commemorated on November 2 every year, is always a special religious holiday for them—but this year, it really hits close to home.

Jennifer has found her smileiagain

Celebrating Day of the Dead in Jennifer’s Community

In El Crucero, Day of the Dead is a big deal to everyone—the government and private companies usually give employees a half- or full-day off. Contrary to what the name may conjure for Americans, Day of the Dead isn’t a sad day for Nicaraguans—it’s a day to remember and celebrate the good moments spent with loved ones who have passed away.

At the entrance to the cemetery in El Crucero stands a white statue of Jesus, his arms wide open as if to welcome the people who arrive there. Almost all of the headstones are very humble and modest, but on Day of the Dead, the cemetery is full of color and life.

Vendors set up stalls just outside the cemetery to sell hydrangeas—which you can see growing wild throughout El Crucero— lilies, daisies, and other local flowers for people to adorn the graves with.

Improvised food stands appear, too, as people are always looking for a way to make extra income amidst the difficult economic situation. The stands are full of Nicaraguan cuisine: vigoron (a cabbage salad), chicharrones (fried pork skin wrapped in banana leaf), and chancho con yucca (fried pork with boiled yucca, topped with tomato, onions, cabbage, and chili marinade). And some families bring as tradition their own sweets, like buñuelos (sweet yucca fritters) or sopas borrachas (“drunken soup,” a rum-laced simple syrup cake), to enjoy during the day.

Families freshen the graves, removing weeds, setting out new flowers, lighting candles, and repainting the headstones. Some families will spend the day in the cemetery, filling it with the sounds of music from their guitars or radios—or, if the family can afford it, Mariachis will play the favorite songs of the one who has passed—laughter, and stories of the memories they hold dear. And if families request it, priests will conduct masses, and the sound of prayers floats heavenward.

Jennifer at her home in El Crucero

Jennifer Remembers Her Aunt

The public transportation in El Crucero is officially named Inter-local, but people have nicknamed it Inter-mortales (“Inter-lethal”) because high speeds and reckless drivers cause such frequent traffic accidents. This year, a dear aunt of Jennifer’s passed away in a terrible accident on the main road of El Crucero.

Dora Graciela and her 5-year-old son were passengers on the motorcycle that her husband was driving. They stopped for a moment and parked on the side of the road, when suddenly they were hit by a truck driven by a drunk man who had fallen asleep behind the wheel. Both her husband and son survived, but Dora Graciela did not.

Jennifer’s aunt was only 33 years old. She was a lawyer, a mommy, a wife, and, to Jennifer, the best aunt a girl could have. Jennifer was Dora’s favorite niece, and Dora liked to treat her by buying her clothes and spending time together, like the day they went window-shopping at the malls in Managua.

Jennifer says, “On Day of the Dead we remember our loved ones and miss them. In my family we pray the rosary and pray for our relatives that have passed away. It was very difficult for us this year—we felt a deep grief for the death of my aunt Dora Graciela. The death of a loved one is very painful because you wish this would never happen to any family member.”

Jennifer is continuing with her life by playing music

Jennifer Keeps on Living

Feed the Children’s programs are all designed to help kids be kids. That means we look out for their total well-being from physical, to educational, to emotional. So when her teachers noticed Jennifer was really affected by her aunt’s death, Jairo Garcia, a psychologist who is a specialist in childhood and youth psychopathology, began working with her to help her overcome her grief.

Dr. Garcia says, “Feed the Children has been concerned about the mental state of children that attend our program, so I worked with Jennifer regarding the mourning she faced in the first weeks after the death of her family member, expressing to her that people we love never die, that they stay alive forever in our hearts. And we have had good results because now her smile, which was gone in the beginning, has come back.”

Despite her loss, Jennifer has kept up her good grades at school, she enjoys going to her afterschool classes at Feed the Children, and she is focused on studying hard to achieve her dreams. She misses her aunt but she knows Dora would want her to get the very best out of life.

“There are so many needs here—there are no jobs, the economic situation is difficult, some houses don’t have electricity or piped water, and that is an issue in this community. There are some small kids that don’t go to school, so I am going to study harder and to prepare myself better in order to achieve my dream to become a business administrator so my parents and my aunt Dora, who is in heaven now, can be proud of me.”

On Day of the Dead, Jennifer celebrates Dora’s life. And every day, with the help of Feed the Children’s partners and donors, she works hard to build her own.