Yes, Family is a Treasure, But Please, Let's Kick the Pagan Deathwashing to the Curb

Día de los Muertos ("Day of the Dead") is a national Mexican holiday observed by people of Mexican heritage from October 31-Nov 2. Some say it doesn't begin until November 1st and object to it being conflated with Halloween, but either way modern observances are said to combine ancient Aztec celebrations of ancestors with Catholic observances of All Saints' Day.

In keeping with the multiculturalism of the times, in 2017, Disney PIXAR produced Coco, a 3D animation feature film centered on Día de los Muertos. Coco follows the journey of 12-year-old Miguel, who is transported to the underworld during the holiday, and as he makes his way back to the living world, he meets some of his deceased family members and comes to appreciate the value of family.

Coco was a hit, and to be fair, it has some sweet moments and promotes a healthy respect for the elderly and the permanence of family. But the backdrop carrying these sweet messages is a problematic picture of eternal spiritual realities. With Coco becoming something of a seasonal classic, a brief worldview guide for thinking through those background themes is in order. So, here goes:

The underworld is basically the same, except you're a skeleton.
Apart from the fact that the dead are skeletons, which PIXAR brings to life with characteristic charm, the underworld Coco presents isn't much different from the secular living world. There is no heaven or hell. The closest thing to anything spiritual is the "spirit guides," which manifest as supernaturalish, neon-like animal forms. People live in cities and retain their personalities, including their quirks, foibles, character flaws, and memories of the living.

Death is to be accepted as a natural part of life.
The Day of the Dead is a celebration, not a mourning. The intent is to recognize the unity of death and life as natural parts of the continuum of the human experience. A common symbol of Día de los Muertos is the sugar skull, a colorful piece of candy shaped like a skull. "The colorful royal icing represents the sweetness of life, as well as the sugar, and the skull represents death," writes Kathy Cano-Murillo. "To eat or just lick a sugar skull means you understand the combination of both."

The way to live forever is to be remembered.
Dia de los Muertos is the one time of the year when the dead can cross over to visit their family in the world of the living. "It's like a grand family reunion," says Coco writer, Adrian Molina. But they may only cross over if a living relative has put out an offrenda ("offering") in their honor. The offrenda, arranged on an altar of sorts, must include a photo of the deceased and may also include food, drink, candles, and personalized trinkets memorializing the deceased. No offrenda, no crossing over. And after a certain period of time, if no living person remembers you, you cease to exist altogether, even in the underworld. In other words, to be forgotten is to suffer eternal death. Hence, the film's theme song, "Remember Me."

Although Dia de los Muertos is held to be a blending of indigenous Aztec and Catholic beliefs, if you know the Bible's picture of reality, you know this is no blend, but is rather a thoroughly pagan take on life and death. To be specific, Christian orthodoxy holds that death is an enemy. Nothing about death is sweet, and we are right to recoil from it and to grieve when someone dies. The only things overtly Catholic in Coco are the crosses on walls and spires.

Comparing and contrasting worldviews can be an effective apologetic, and this story is ripe for separating the meaning of the cross from the meaning of death and skulls and bones. Whereas, Disney has given us a picture of death as the end for all the living, Christianity tells us that in Christ, death itself has come to its end. And if Jesus Christ really rose from the dead, only one of these stories ends in a grand family reunion.

 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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