Updated: Oct 29, 2021
It's the time of year when children everywhere dream of one thing... how to convince the adults in their lives to give them more sugar!
Depending on who you ask, the tradition many North Americans grew up celebrating, Halloween, has either an origin story based in scaring away evil spirits or worshiping them. In reality, the modern US version of Halloween is a typical "American" holiday - it's a blend of several different traditions from different cultures and different religions. However, most children don't know much about the history, and they don't care... they just want an excuse to dress up and get candy.
In Mexico and some parts of Central and South America there is another holiday this time of year, the Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). This holiday also has religious roots, and, like Halloween, some of them have been blended over time. The Dia is based on belief systems found among the Aztec, Toltec, and other pre-Columbian people groups in Meso-America. When the Spanish arrived, Catholic evangelists blended the ideas of All Saints and All Souls days into the tradition. Today, the Dia is celebrated by Catholics more than Protestants (who, for a long time taught that All Saints and All Souls day were heretical), but also among some Hispanics who are simply trying to reclaim some of their culture.
Dia de los Muertos celebrations typically include an ofrenda (offering, on a home altar) with marigolds, the some of the departed's favorite foods or drinks, pan de muerto (a special sweet bread), and a calavera or sugar skull (often intricately decorated). Families make lots of sweet treats in preparation for the Dia, and children are not left out of enjoying all the extra sugar. Unlike All Saints Day and All Souls Day, which tend to be very somber times praying for the departed, the two days of los Muertos are times of celebration, when the spirits of departed loved one is said to be able to come back to visit the living.
So... what do we do at Open Arms Community with children who love sugar, who are American, with Mexican heritage, who are all Christians, but belong to many different denominations? Tread carefully around this time of year! We talk to the children about the holidays and give them a little information about all of them, their history (secular and sacred, pagan and Christian). We give them some arts and crafts to reinforce their learning, but most importantly, we tell them to talk to their parents/guardians to learn from them about what THEY believe, how THEY celebrate (because culture is always best when learned from those closest to it).
We give them candy.
Special thanks to Burkhead UMC for the Halloween treats for the children.