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Día de los Muertos with Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria y Santa Marta

Written by the Rev. Monique L. Ortiz

Pastor St. Mary and St. Martha Lutheran Church, San Francisco, CA

At Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria y Santa Marta / St. Mary and St. Martha Lutheran Church, among our favorite traditions we love and observe every year is the Celebration of El Día de Los Muertos {The Day of the Dead}.

The week prior to November 1st and 2nd {All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the Catholic calendar—around the time of the fall maize harvest}, members of both our Spanish and English congregations begin to bring photos, personal mementos, flowers, candles, etc.; to honor their loved ones who have passed-on.

By mid-week, we begin to set-up our Día de Los Muertos Altar or Ofrenda in a corner of the Sanctuary. This is my favorite part, to transform a lifeless and empty space into a beautiful sacred space exploding with color and life-affirming joy! We also drape over the altar and throughout the church sanctuary traditional and colorful Papel Picado or pierced papers, the art represents the wind and the fragility of life.

The centerpiece of the celebration is our ofrenda (altar), which many people also create on their own at home and by the gravesite of their loved ones. The ofrenda is not an altar for worshipping; rather, the traditional belief is meant to welcome spirits back to the realm of the living. As such, they’re loaded with offerings—water to quench thirst after the long journey, food, family photos, and a candle for each dead relative. Marigolds are the main flowers used to decorate the altar. Scattered from altar to gravesite, marigold petals guide wandering souls back to us and then to their place of rest. Throughout the beautiful altar we also place colorful and decorated calaveras or skulls made of compressed sugar and water, which is another Aztec tradition as a reminder of the cycles of life.

During our Día de Los Muertos Sunday Worship Service, we create a spe