Question: "What is the Day of the Dead?"
Answer: The Day of the Dead or el Día de los Muertos, is a Mexican holiday held from October 31 to November 2. The Day of the Dead is connected to two Catholic holidays, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, and corresponds with the end of harvest. On the Day of the Dead, celebrants gather to pray to and honor friends and family members who have died.
Celebrations on the Day of the Dead involve parades, costumes, sharing “sugar skulls” and pan de muerto, or the “bread of death,” placing food and flowers on home altars or on the graves the deceased, and marking the path from the grave to one’s home with candles. Origins of the holiday have been traced back thousands of years to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl, but observance of the Day of the Dead has been heavily influenced by Catholicism.
The idea behind the Day of the Dead is that dead loved ones participate in the ceremonies. It’s traditionally thought that the boundary between the spirit world and the world of the living grows weak from October 31 through November 2, allowing people to commune with their departed relatives. The rituals required in preparing for the Day of the Dead are deemed important based on another notion: “It is believed that the dead are capable of bringing prosperity (e.g. an abundant maize harvest) or misfortune (e.g. illness, accidents, financial difficulties) upon their families depending on how satisfactorily the rituals are executed” (https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/indigenous-festivity-dedicated-to-the-dead-00054, accessed 5/31/22).
There is nothing wrong with honoring the memory of loved ones who have died. But Day of the Dead observances go beyond honor and promote communing with the dead. Jesus indicated that those who have died do not have access to communicate with the living—they are not free to return to earth (see Luke 16:19–31). Elsewhere, God’s Word warns people of the futility of trying to contact the dead: “Should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isaiah 8:19). Even if the souls of the dead were capable of returning, they could not bless or curse anyone; blessing and cursing are God’s prerogative (Psalm 37:22; Proverbs 3:33).
The world is full of traditions and customs that are contrary to God’s will as expressed in His Word. The Day of the Dead is based not on biblical truth but on a synthesis of Roman Catholic tradition and indigenous customs. The result is a holiday that leans heavily on superstition and empty ritual. How much better to focus on Jesus, “the Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:9)? How much better to prepare to meet Him some day, knowing that He “will judge the living and the dead” (2 Timothy 4:1)?