Celebrating the Dead…

Halloween is approaching…that perplexing holiday for Christian parents. Should we celebrate it or not? If so, how? If not, how will we handle it with our kids?

But I want to talk about a different holiday, tied up with All Hallow’s Eve.

Dia de los Muertos candiesI remember feeling a perplexed horror when I first learned about Dia de los Muertos in Spanish class my freshman year of high school. Dia de los Muertos is typically celebrated November 1 & 2nd, coinciding with All Saints and All Souls Day on the Christian calendar. It seemed so strange to see little children eating skull-themed candies and families camping out at graveyards. In my understanding at that time, it seemed like the “bad” parts of Halloween…but much worse. After all, they were celebrating…death!

But recently I saw a news-magazine show about latino immigrants to the U.S. and I gained a different perspective. A young mother — just about my age — explained how and why her family celebrates the Day of the Dead. Drawn from her cultural and faith traditions, she and her children set up a lovely festive table with a prominent photograph of her dead father. Around the photo were candles, candies, brightly-colored paper flags, and flowers. They cooked special empanadas and homemade sugar candies (yes, they were skulls). But what really struck me was that they spent hours that day telling stories and favorite memories about their dad/grandpa. They celebrated his life in a powerful, phenomenal way. It wasn’t scary or strange — it was courageous and loving.

It seems to me that in my cultural background we tend to ignore our dead loved ones. We may talk about them sometimes, but we never really look their death square in the face and purposefully talk about them at length, welcoming the mix of emotions that this will produce — joy, laughter, tears, quiet sadness.

One Christian holiday that I’ve been thinking more about the past couple of years is All Saints Day — November 1st. So here’s a new family faith-building idea for you that we’re going to try this year. I’d like to re-work this holiday a bit to become a special, celebratory time for our family, drawing from my children’s latino heritage with some of the Christian aspects of Dia de los Muertos and also bringing our own unique touch to it. I’d like to celebrate the “saints” that have gone before us in our family — using photographs, telling stories, and thanking God for their lives. And the tradition we plan to start this year is singing the powerful hymn “For All the Saints.”

How could you use these few days — typically stressful for Christian parents — to help your children learn about death (and eternal life!) from an accurate, Christian perspective? How could you transform it into a time in which your kids learn about their grandparents or great-grandparents, discovering more about themselves as they hear about their heritage?

I’ll end with the lyrics to “For All the Saints” — and I’d love to hear YOUR ideas!

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!


3 responses to “Celebrating the Dead…

  1. Kelli-

    Do you celebrate Halloween with your kids and if so, what do you do? It’s just around the corner and we’re wondering what to do. Do we even pass out candy? On one hand, we may have opportunities to meet more of our neighbors, but on the other hand we have theological issues with Halloween, too. At playgroup on Thursday, we went around and shared what Halloween costume we’d be dressing our babies in and I honestly hadn’t even thought about it. I’m cautious about what precedent we set for Jillian (6.5 mos). I’d appreciate your thoughts and I’m sure others would, too!


  2. Alison,
    Thanks for the question — I read it too late, obviously, to answer you question about Halloween! Halloween is a tough one for Christians to handle and I’ve certainly gone back and forth on it myself. But the answer is that we DO celebrate Halloween b/c we feel that if it’s done within certain parameters (no celebrating evil, etc.), it is relatively harmless. We concluded that it could be more harmful to our kids to feel totally left out of something that’s very fun and part of American culture. It can also come across as very pious to non-Christian neighbors and friends. Plus, dressing up really is just plain fun. I think it is important to provide opportunities for wonder and imagination with kids, and Halloween is one of those times. We chose to do it with a family from our church in a neighborhood full of kids who were all dressed up. So, that’s our answer. It’s still a tough question no matter how you cut it b/c the reality is that Halloween is an actual “holy day” for witches, etc.! But I guess that sitting it out or attending some completely cheesy “alternative” event just isn’t our cup of tea. Thoughts???

  3. I love the idea of celebrating All Saints Day. I am not Catholic, but find myself appreciating this particular Feast Day.

    And I feel the same way you do about Halloween. Just as anything you do with your kids, you have to focus on the right emphasis. Christmas — Santa Claus or Baby Jesus — Easter — Bunny or Risen Lord.

    Great site by the way! I’ll be back!

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