Day of the Dead. Or “All Souls Day,” for traditionalists.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 November 2023

Once you become Christian you receive the Holy Spirit: He comes to live within you, to confirm your salvation, and lead and teach you, and hopefully grow good fruit in you. Many Christians confuse this with being baptized in the Spirit, but that’s a different thing. Regardless, he lives in you, and makes you holy. You’re a saint now.

Yes, you are.

Yes, an actual saint, same as all the other famous Christian saints. Same as the first apostles and Jesus’s parents. Same as St. Augustine, St. Francis, St. Nicholas, St. Joan of Arc, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. John Paul; same as those non-Orthodox and non-Catholic saints who don’t always go by the title, like Jonathan Edwards and D.L. Moody and C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham. The only difference between your sainthood and theirs, is degree. They did more for Jesus, or at least had better publicists. That’s not to say you can’t do just as much for Jesus—because you too have the very same Holy Spirit in you as they did.

I know; not every Christian believes this. Many believe you’re not a saint till you’re definitely in heaven. Till then, you’re on earth, or dead and in purgatory. You may yet become a saint, but not yet.

For those people there’s All Souls Day, which in the west is observed on 2 November. In the United States it’s usually called the Day of the Dead—or if you speak Spanish, Dia de los Muertos.

Day of the Dead is huge in Mexico, where Roman Catholic customs have largely been ditched, ’cause Mexicans way prefer partying to mourning. A lot of Aztec and indigenous customs got mixed in, much like Halloween swiped British and German folklore, and evolved in the United States into something which doesn’t look at all like All Saints Day. But no, Day of the Dead isn’t Mexican Halloween; the holidays don’t practice the very same things. Fr’instance if you’re dressing up, or eating candy, you’re always gonna go with a skull motif. Skulls everywhere. (Hey, everybody has one.)

The reason you don’t see Evangelicals bother with All Souls Day, is because Evangelicals generally believe the same as I do: Every Christian is a saint. If we’re gonna remember our fellow Christians, it’s gonna be on their particular memorial day, or All Saints Day. We don’t need a second holiday to remember the Christian who aren’t saints; there is no such creature.

Still, if you wanna remember departed loved ones, and All Saints Day is a little too solemn for what you have in mind, the Day of the Dead is way less formal. And has tamales and candy! Every holiday should have tamales and candy.

Remembering those who aren’t thought of as saints.

Though every Christian is a saint, most Christians aren’t used to thinking of one another that way. Especially when our fellow Christians aren’t all that saintly.

To be honest, some of them are largely indistinguishable from pagans. They sin as much (if not more, because they figure they’re forgiven and don’t need to earn back the karma). They seldom pray unless they’re in a jam, don’t read bible, don’t bother with church except for Christmas and Easter, and don’t even try to do any more good deeds than anyone else. Some people have no idea they’re Christian until they die—when the family holds a memorial service at their church, and people from that church give eulogies about how very Christian they were, and all their pagan friends and relatives go, “Wait, are we even talking about the same person?”

So a saints’ day, or the Feast of All Saints, seems really inappropriate for such people. We’re gonna remember our hell-raising biker buddy on the same day we’re remembering Mother Cabrini and Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Does not compute.

But y’know, it should! Jesus levels the playing field like that. Whether we’re known for our good works or not, sainthood isn’t based on our good deeds, but God’s grace. God puts the same Holy Spirit into well-behaved do-gooders, and angry jerks who take great fun in enraging their political opponents. True, some are obviously following the Spirit, and others not so much. But God makes every single one of ’em saints. Sinners included. Sinners especially—they’re the raw material he’s always gotta work with.

All Souls Day is a concession for those people who just can’t wrap their heads around God’s grace, and have to draw a line between good Christians and bad. For the good Christians there’s All Saints Day; for the rest of us there’s All Souls Day. But the really messed up thing about having two separate memorial days, is how the one for good Christians is marked with solemn observance, and the one for bad Christians has parties and tequila. Um… which Christians are we honoring here? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Shouldn’t we celebrate those who did follow the Spirit?

Although there’s something to be said for celebrating the fact people who really don’t merit God’s kingdom whatsoever, still get in. Grace is always worth celebrating.