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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 special space to honor, remember and name each of our departed loved ones including silent and not so silent heroes who have made an impact in our lives and the world. After Service we gather around and share el pan de muerto {Day of the dead bread}. It is a typical sweet bread (pan dulce), often featuring anise seeds and decorated with bones and skulls made from dough. The bones might be arranged in a circle, as in the circle of life. Tiny dough teardrops symbolize sorrow.

Photos of last years Día de los Muertos service.


In the U.S. many folks think Día de Los Muertos is a Mexican version of Halloween – that is one thing it is not! Whereas traditionally, Halloween is a dark night of terror and mischief, the Day of the Dead is a beautiful festive celebration of love, respect and remembrance of our ancestors. Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. For these pre-Hispanic cultures, death was a natural phase in life’s long continuum. The dead were still members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit. They also believed that it is here, in our earthly life when we are somewhat asleep and it is in the afterlife when we are truly awake and fully alive. I happen to think, there is much truth to that!


This year, we invite you to join us for a sacred and joyous time on Sunday, October 31st for a special Day of the Dead Bilingual Service at 11:00 A.M. After the Service we will share lunch and stories of our departed loved ones. You are also welcome to bring photos and/or remembrances of loved ones!


Oscar Uzin explained the meaning of All Saints Day: "We do not concentrate today on spiritual heroes, but on people who are saints by loving one another, caring for one another, forgiving one another in their normal, everyday lives. We are celebrating the saints among us who do not have haloes above their heads but who, formed and inspired by the gospel, can make the interest of others more important than their own."

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