OK, the Day of the Dead was originally an Aztec holiday. So if you’re a purist, maybe you shouldn’t celebrate it.
However, when the Spanish came to Mexico, they said, “Hmmm . . . there are some merits to this whole Day of the Dead-thing”. They took a look at the liturgical calendar and simply moved the holiday from sometime in the summer to, very convieniently, All Souls Day on November 2ed.
It’s like it was meant to be.
So, it’s officially sponsored by the Roman Catholic church in Mexico. But if you’re not Mexican or Roman Catholic? Should one then celebrate Day of the Dead?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Since I like the holiday, here are my reasons in favor of celebrating it.
Remembering Your Ancestors
Now, maybe this is a little different for people from other parts of the world, but I’m from the US. And it’s people in the US that are becoming fascinated by the whole idea of the Day of the Dead. (I’ve got another post about that here.)
This fascination may by, in large part, because in US culture we have a pathological fear of death. Now, I realize that EVERYONE is somewhat afraid of death. That’s normal. But in the US, we do our best to pretend that death doesn’t exist.
You know, like it isn’t going to happen to me.
So during those unfortunate cases when someone we know does actually die, we do our best to hurry up, forget about it, and pretend it didn’t happen.
Call me crazy, but that might not be the healthiest way of dealing with grief.
So, for all those other gringos who would like a day set aside, every year, to remember our friends and family members who have passed on, I suggest that you go ahead and jump on this whole Day of the Dead bandwagon, too. You don’t have to go the whole hog and make a seven-tier altar or anything. (But if you feel the need to, go right ahead.)
But take the day and remember the people you’ve loved who have died. Cherish their memories. Contemplate your own mortality, while you’re at it. These are all good, healthy things to do.
Speaking for the gringos, it’s something we should do more often.
The Great Cloud of Witnesses
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”
These witnesses are encouraging us on. We are surrounded. They want to see us do well. They want to see us finish our particular races, just as they have finished theirs. Whether these are our grandparents or early Christian martyrs, we are surrounded by this “cloud of witnesses.”
Or, as we say in the Nicene Creed, “we believe in the communion of saints”. Is this communion purely for the living?
I AM the God of Abraham . . .
We believe in life after death. Yes, there will be a bodily resurrection. But in the meantime, does everything just stop? (At least, for those who have “stopped”?)
Jesus kind of cleared up this question in Luke 20:37-38:
“That the dead will rise, even Moses made known in the passage about hte bush, when he called ´Lord´the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive. ”
So is it wrong to celebrate Day of the Dead?
So many saints (whether officially recognized or not) have gone before us. Is it OK to forget the legacy they have left us?
I think we’d be remiss to not remember them.
Whether we’re remembering our personal ancestors or heroes who we never knew in life, it’s important to reflect on what they’ve taught us.
So if I’m erring, I’ll err on the side of remembering them.
You want to celebrate the Day of the Dead, but surrounding yourself with skulls creeps you out?
I’m (mostly) right there with you.
1) Put out pictures of family members and friends who have died. It’s nice to have them out, at least once a year.
2) Pan de Muerto (Dead Bread) There’s no supernatural significance to the bread–it’s just delicious! All bakeries in Mexico sell them all fall, but I like to make one from scratch for the actual day.
Sign up for my email list, and I’ll email you my favorite recipe!
3) If you CAN handle a sugar skull, this is my favorite bit. Go ahead and have them on display through November 2ed. Then, on November 3rd, break it open with a hammer and eat it. As I explain to my kids, we believe that Christ has conquered death. So by breaking the skull open and eating it, we get to enjoy the sweetness that is being set free from sin and death.
I’ve got more thoughts on the Day of the Dead!
Cultural Interchange: How Day of the Dead Is Really Celebrated (and how it’s protrayed in popular culture)