The Monarchs' Arrival in Mexico and Mexican Traditions

(To slideshow)


The first monarchs arrive at their winter home in Mexico each fall by the first of November. Two events are taking place in Mexico when the monarchs appear. One is a seasonal event and the other a cultural event and people connect the arrival of the monarchs with these events:

Seasonal Event

Monarchs and Corn Harvest
People in the region have noticed the arrival of monarchs since pre-Hispanic times.
In the language of the native Purépecha Indians, the monarch butterfly is called the harvester butterfly, because monarchs appear when it's time to harvest the corn.

Cultural Event

Monarchs and the Day of the Dead
The Mexican holiday Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) also occurs when the monarchs appear. According to traditional belief, the monarchs are the souls of ancestors who are returning to Earth for their annual visit.


Suggested Activities

1. Introduce the slideshow:
Look at the cover photo and list objects that were used to create this ofrenda (shrine) for Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead holiday that honors the memory of loved ones who have died.

Ask questions to guide a pre-reading discussion: Looking at this photo, how do you think Mexicans prepare for the memorial holiday, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)? How do people around the world honor loved ones who have died? What objects help us celebrate this kind of holiday?

2. As you read the slideshow, discuss:
Cultures have different beliefs about death and different ways of remembering loved ones who have died. How do Mexicans celebrate Day of the Dead, their memorial holiday in November? Encourage students to look closely at each photo and ask questions about how ofrendas are made, why marigold flowers are gathered, how candles are used, what traditional foods and drinks are made for the festivities, and more. Explore the customs and unique ways this annual holiday is celebrated.


The Day of the Dead
at Our School in Angangueo


3. Compare Day of the Dead with Halloween and other Memorial Days.

Students may or may not have mentioned Halloween, which occurs at the same time of year. The holiday's historic roots, beliefs, and traditions have given way in the U.S. and Canada to a celebration of candy and costumes. Explore the similarities and differences between Halloween and the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations; make comparisons to other customs and traditions for other memorial events from around the world. Compare and contrast core beliefs, main activities, foods, clothing, and other items that help people celebrate during these events.


4. Discuss seasonal connections:
These fall holidays have their early roots in yearly seasonal changes and final harvests. People stockpiled food for cold winter months when the sun set early and rose late, and when nature "died" until its rebirth in the spring. What's happening to plants at this time of year? How is daylength changing?

5. Research how other cultures honor the memory of loved ones:
Discuss the fact that many cultures have traditions for honoring the dead. For instance, in Afghanistan, people prepare and eat the favorite food of the deceased relative once a week for a month after he/she died. Have students conduct research to learn about other customs.


Here is a collection of links about the Day of the Dead in Angangueo, and about corn, tortillas, and the growing season in the monarch overwintering area.

Day of the Dead

  • Slideshow: The Day of the Dead at Our School in Angangueo (English)
  • Slideshow: El Dia de los Muertos en Nuestra Escuela en Angangueo (Spanish)
  • Slideshow: Making Pan de de los Muertos with the Moreño Family (slideshow and video)
  • Slideshow: Visiting a Cemetery on Dia de los Muertos (slideshow)
  • Reading: About Day of the Dead by Estela Romero (English)
  • Reading: Sobre Dia de los Muertos por Estela Romero (Espanol)

Monarchs, Corn and the Growing Season: