Disney released Coco in 2017. Although I’m a huge Disney fan, I was highly skeptical of the new film. Mostly because I knew nothing about Mexican culture or the tradition of Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). I assumed this movie, its message and traditions were a bad idea and would conflict with my Christian beliefs. Oh how narrow minded and naive I was! Thankfully, I’ve grown to not only learn and understand more about Mexican culture including Dia De Los Muertos, but I’ve also fallen in love with Coco!
Willingness to Learn
One day I walked into work and saw my friend with her new Coco purse. Instantly, I remembered not only is she too a huge Disney fan like me, but she’s is also half Mexican. This was an opportunity for me to learn if she was willing to teach me. Thankfully, she was.
“Mikayla,” I asked “Is that bag from Coco?” I asked, finding a way to respectfully way to open the conversation. “Yeah!” she replied with excitement. “I just got it.” As we stood admiring her new souvenir, I began to ask her about the movie and why she liked it so much. “It’s my favorite! When I watch it, I’m reminded of how my family celebrated and honored my grandpa after he died.” I knew Mikayla had been raised in a Christian home; yet, she’d grown up celebrating Dia De Los Muertos? I wanted to know more, to understand. So I invited her to coffee.
Coffee & Coco
With coffees in hand, we sat in comfy, oversized chairs ready to begin.
“So tell me,” I began. “What is Dia De Los Muertos all about?”
“Well,” she said, “I can only tell you the way I celebrated it. My grandpa died when I was four. We were very close and I was having a hard time processing his death. There had been a couple other traumas in a short amount of time so my mom thought celebrating his life might help me.”
“I know you’re biracial. Is your mom Mexican?”
“No, my dad is. My mom is White. My dad wanted to teach us about his culture but he always left it up to his mom, my grandma. Whenever we asked questions or he wanted us to learn something, he would ask her to teach us. I think it was because of the discrimination experienced that he’d experienced as a kid at school. Maybe he didn’t feel equipped to teach us, so he asked her to do it.”
“I know you’re a Christian now. Did you grow up in a Christian home?”
“Kind of. My Mexican side were Catholic but didn’t really practice. They were more spiritual. I remember they all believed in ghosts which always freaked me out. I would go to my aunt’s house and drawers would be opened. My family members would say the ghost of a relative had done it, like that was normal! My parents never believed or taught us about spirits, but to the rest of my family, it was as normal as having a dog.
My mom took us to church. When grandpa died, she would tell me he was in Heaven with Jesus.”
Culture + Christianity + Celebration
“Wow! So did you grow up celebrating the Dia De Los Muertos?”
“No, which is surprising considering the whole ghost thing with that side of my family. I didn’t start celebrating it until my grandpa died. Like I said, I didn’t handle his dealth well. My mom thought celebrating his life would help. So that’s what we did.”
“Is that what Dia De Los Muertos is, a celebration?”
“That is how we celebrated it. Most people celebrate the memory of loved ones who’ve passed and basically invite them to come back to visit for one night. We never invited Grandpa to come visit because we believed he was in heaven. So we just used the time to remember and celebrate his life.
We made traditional sugar skulls which are usually made from sugar or chocolate and molded into skulls. Then we decorated them with Grandpa’s favorite colors and things he liked.
Then we would display them. But we never called it an ofrenda, or alter. That was going too far for my mom. We also never talked about Grandpa coming to visit us or transitioning within the spirit realm. Like I’ve said, he was in Heaven with Jesus. There was never any doubt about that.”
“What other traditions are celebrated during Dia De Los Muertos?”
“My mom always bought marigolds at that time of year, but I’m not sure if that had anything to do with the holiday. I also remember we always had pumpkin pie for dessert because it was Grandpa’s favorite.”
“The first thing I think of when I think of Dia De Los Muertos is the make up and costumes. Did you or your family do that as well?”
“No, we never got into the make up.”
Celebrating vs. Worshiping
“How long did your family celebrate the tradition?”
“We only did it for a few years, from when I was four until I was 10 years old.”
“From what you describe, Dia De Los Muertos was instrumental in your grief process.”
“Yes! It really was. It gave us an opportunity to honor my grandpa, to celebrate his life and remember him well. I gave me an outlet to process my grief in a healthy way.”
“From what you describe, it doesn’t sound like the holiday or tradition was ever an act of worship.”
“Never. That’s where my mom drew the line. We were able to experience our culture and celebrate it without worshiping something or someone else. She never mixed the religious parts or made it confusing.”
Celebrating as an Adult
“I know Coco is one of your favorite Disney/Pixar movies. What was it like to see such a special childhood memory depicted this way?”
“The first time I saw it a bawled. It was so beautiful! It brought back all of the wonderful memories. You know I love all things Disney. To see them honor and celebrate my culture was so special. It’s hard to put into words.”
“Do you still celebrate Dia De Los Muertos as an adult?”
“Not really. But my husband and I have talked about it and we want to expose our children to my Mexican culture. We want them to be bilingual and have a healthy understanding of their heritage. I still love Coco though. It’s always playing on Disney+ in our house. I love that i can watch it in both English and Spanish. That was something I didn’t grow up with. It wasn’t even an option, but I love that it will be for our kids.”
Sharing & Learning
I love how much we can learn from one another when we’re willing to take the time to make the investment. She had to be willing to share her culture and memories. I had to be willing to admit I had a lot to learn. Together, we were able to grow and deepen out friendship. That is what makes our diversity so beautiful!
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2 thoughts on “Dia De Los Muertos: Personal Reflections of Celebration”
Torrie! This is SO SO good! I too am quick to judge something I don’t understand and assume it goes against my Christian principles. There is a place for discernment but what I love about your post is that you explain the difference between celebrating and worshipping. I find the same tension with Halloween, with Harry Potter, etc. But if I shy away from those things and model that for my kids without seeking to understand – and then talk about them clearly and objectively, I am just modeling fear, not faith. Thank you for this lovely post – I learned so much and your pictures are beautiful!
Thanks Amanda. I knew I wasn’t alone in my perspective. So glad to hear it not only resonated with you but helped you gain a new way of looking at other holidays, topics, ect. So often I find we as Christians have been conditioned to be quick to judge and slow to learn. Maybe it’s time to flip that upside down and become quick to love and learn and leave the judgement to the only One who has that authority. If you haven’t already, I’d love to invite you to subscribe to my emails so you don’t miss upcoming posts, giveaways and other fun stuff!