by Joshua S., EFCA ReachGlobal missionary in Mexico
Many American evangelicals have found a way to make peace with Halloween. Harvest festivals, Spiderman costumes, and generic pumpkin carving contests have provided a more biblically sound alternative to the gloom and doom origins of Halloween.
However, Mexico’s national Day of the Dead celebration was a challenge for our missionary family in Mexico City. We knew the day would come when the culture would clash with our Christian values, but we didn’t realize just how difficult this holiday would be for our three children.
The Day of the Dead is not about dressing up in costumes and getting candy. It is centered on three key elements: (1) an altar is built for the dead, (2) offerings are given in honor of the deceased — including pictures and favorite foods and (3) people communing with dead relatives.
As we talked with Mexican evangelicals, it became clear that there was little that could be done to redeem this holiday.
But it would also be impossible to ignore.
On the Day of the Dead, school is cancelled for the national holiday. The day before the holiday, though, school children are expected to participate in a school program focused on the dead. Much of the preceding month, the children prepare for this program — and that is where the struggles began.
Our children were repeatedly commanded to bring offerings for the school altar and engage in other activities associated with death. We encouraged our children to graciously refuse, and that seemed to be enough for the teachers of our two youngest children.
However, we knew something was wrong when our oldest son, Malachai, came home from school distraught. He had to do the assignment. He had to bring an offering, he told us. If not, his teacher had threatened to give him a zero on all related assignments. For our overachieving 8-year-old, this was too much. He was nervous and fearful to go to school.
So we talked with him. We talked about the importance of following Jesus no matter what and about how glorifying God is more important to us than good grades. We talked about pleasing God versus seeking man’s approval. We talked about death, about the dead, and about life and the God of the living.
The next morning, we read the story of Daniel. And then I walked him to school and waited to speak with his teacher.
Catching her just before the bell rang, we only had a moment, but it was important for Malachai that I not wait any longer. I told his teacher that I knew we were a bit strange in terms of Mexican culture, but that as a Christian family we would not be celebrating the Day of the Dead. I asked her to please give our son alternative assignments. And I told her that if there was no alternative, we would prefer that he simply receive a zero.
She gave him alternate assignments. That was the end of it.
We didn’t send our kids to school for the Day of the Dead celebration. And we didn’t celebrate the Day of the Dead. But we did spend two days at home celebrating life together, sharing stories from the Scriptures about the God of life, playing games together and enjoying the many gifts the Lord of life has given us as His people.
Perhaps we cannot redeem a holiday like the Day of the Dead. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot redeem the day on which it is celebrated.
“But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God… He is not God of the dead, but of the living’” (Matt.22:29, 32b).
* * * * *
* * * * *
- That God’s truth would penetrate through cultural barriers and traditions.
- For the missionaries in Mexico and throughout Latin America to have wisdom in navigating the culture while always honoring God.
Make an online donation to the Mexico City general ministry fund.