Thanks to the movie Coco, many had the opportunity to learn about Dia de los Muertos -Day of the Dead- a very Latin tradition that is celebrated throughout Latin America, taking on very peculiar characteristics depending on the country. In Mexico, for example, there are altars, the Catrina, the ‘pan de muerto’ (bread of the dead), flowers, photographs, and candles placed on the altar at home, which is also decorated with flowers and fruits. In Guatemala, they also decorate graves with photographs, candles, flowers, fruit, and ‘pan de muerto’. Usually, at the cemetery, the music starts early in the morning and lasts until late at night; they eat ‘fiambre’, ‘ayote en dulce’, and fly kites. In other countries, it is also common for the deceased’s loved ones to clean and arrange the graves and bring photographs and food.
Here in the U.S., pastors face the challenge of respecting and including the traditions of each country in the celebrations of our churches, creating a mosaic of rituals, customs, and foods for the enrichment of all equally. It is important to understand that in some countries, these celebrations begin on October 31st at midnight and do not end until November 2nd at midnight. When I was serving in my previous calling, the congregation was half Anglo and half Latino. I remember that the first year, my Anglo brothers and sisters wanted to include everyone in the celebration of All Saints by reading the names of family and friends who had passed away, to be read during the prayers in the two worship services we had. To our surprise, the lists of names of the deceased started to arrive, and without realizing it, we ended up reading nearly 200 names in each service. That day caught us off guard, and we honored the many deceased people, beloved ones of our church members, by extending the service for almost an hour. The following year, we narrowed it down to only those who had passed away in the previous year, but even so, our lists would reach 60-70 names. One of the customs we also adopted was lighting a candle for each name read; we started with real candles, but due to the danger of so many lit candles, we switched to electronic ones. Families were encouraged to bring photographs and flowers to decorate our altar. On All Saints’ Day, we always concluded with typical meals from different countries, desserts, and the famous ‘pan de muerto’. It also was not uncommon for us to be asked for private worship services in honor of the memory of their loved ones. It is a very spiritually active time in our communities, and as pastors, it is a blessing to be part of this celebration. – Pastor Violeta Siguenza