What is the Day of the Dead?Day of the Dead is a celebration honoring and remembering those who have died. While it originated in Mexico, its influence is spreading both within spiritual and secular communities alike. Deeply rooted in Catholic tradition and trending in pop culture, the holiday attracts a wide audience. Yet despite its seemingly Christian roots, Day of the Dead is very unbiblical. Let us take a closer look at how it is celebrated, how it originated, and how it contradicts biblical truth.
Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Mexico and in many other parts of Central and North America. On November 1st, All Saints Day, people remember the saints and children who have died, and on November 2nd, All Souls Day, everyone else is remembered. It is believed that the souls of the dead come back to visit, so families decorate the tombs of the deceased with candles and flowers. They also build altars in their houses with family members' photos, favorite foods, and earthly possessions. They paint their faces to scare away evil spirits, but overall it is a happy rather than somber celebration to remember a person's life.
The Day of the Dead was birthed from a mix of the Spanish and Aztec cultures when Spain colonized what is now Mexico. Spain is predominantly Catholic and celebrates All Saints Day on November 1st to remember all the Catholics who have died and are in heaven, especially those who are considered saints. November 2nd, All Souls Day, is to remember and pray for all those who have died and did not go to heaven. Interestingly, many pagan holidays concerning spirits coincide with these dates. The Catholic Church has a practice of building Catholic traditions over preexisting pagan traditions in order to help transition those cultures from paganism to Christianity. In Aztec culture they believed that when a person died, they went to Chicunamictlán, the Land of the Dead, and had to travel through nine difficult levels to get to their final resting place. In August, people would remember their loved ones who had died by leaving out things like food and supplies they might need for the afterlife journey. The combination of these two belief systems formed into the Day of the Dead we know today.
In order to understand how Day of the Dead contradicts the Bible we must answer three questions: How should believers interact with secular culture?, What happens to the body and soul after death?, and Should believers try to communicate with the dead?
Throughout the Old Testament God commands the Israelites to not intermix with other cultures (Deuteronomy 7:1–5). He warns them that accepting these other cultures' way of life will lead to worshiping other gods and participating in their sins. In the New Testament Paul urges believers, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2). During the Spanish colonization of the New World they chose to combine pagan and Catholic traditions in order to ease the conversion of the indigenous people to Christianity. In doing so, they inadvertently acquired pagan practices as well. Day of the Dead contradicts the Bible in that it promotes mixing pagan and Christian beliefs, which in turn leads to deception and sin.
According to the Bible, when we die our physical bodies begin to disintegrate and eventually return to dust, from which Adam was originally created (Genesis 3:19). The souls of believers are in the presence of God in heaven. The souls of unbelievers are in hell where there is suffering. Both the souls of the believers and the unbelievers wait for the day when their bodies will be resurrected and there will be final judgment. Those who are covered by the blood of Jesus will enter into an eternity with God and those who were unrepentant will enter into an eternity in the lake of fire (Matthew 25:46; Romans 6:23). This contradicts the Day of the Dead in that the dead are not in a journey in the afterlife or the Land of the Dead. Neither are they are concerned with the things of the living, and they cannot cross back over into life. Day of the Dead encourages praying for the souls of the unsaved dead believed to be in purgatory. However, the concept of purgatory is unbiblical. There is no hope for unbelievers after death.
It is a sin to try to communicate with the dead. God warned the Israelites, "There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord" (Deuteronomy 18:10–12). In the New Testament it is made clear that through faith in Jesus believers have direct access to God and do not need to have anyone intercede on their behalf (1 Timothy 2:5). The dead are not worthy to be prayed to and neither have the power nor wisdom to answer our prayers. Jesus' resurrection removed the barrier between humanity and God. We can pray directly to God knowing He will fulfill our needs. People must be wary of spirits, as demons may use this as an opportunity to deceive. The demons and Satan give no help to the living and will be subject to suffering along with those they deceive.
Many people, including many believers, are being deceived by Day of the Dead. It is certainly good to honor the memories of loved ones who have passed away. However, we must be careful not to participate in activities that idolize the dead or replicate pagan rituals. By setting ourselves apart from culture we embody the transformation Jesus is working within us and become a light for those still in darkness. In addition, we need to recognize that death is a one-way ticket to either heaven or hell. This should mobilize us to share the truth of the gospel while people are still living so that they may find salvation. Finally, believers should not attempt to communicate with the dead. It makes them a target of evil spirits wanting to deceive them and hinders their relationship with God.
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