There are religious images used in Day of the Dead art, but it was not always the case. Religious imagery became part of the Day of the Dead celebration when the Aztecs were forced to convert to Christianity. They had the choice to convert or die.
Religion was used as a weapon and it was a weapon that worked. Wanting to hold on to their celebration they used the Christian icons to appease the Spaniards and it seems to have worked to some degree. (This is very much the same origin, for Voodoo and Santeria among other so considered lesser religions. They merged their own religions with Christianity when they were forcibly converted to Christianity..)
Originally the Christian symbols meant nothing to the Aztecs. These used the iconography and the names, but held on to their own beliefs for as long as they could. As time passed these newer religious icons became part of the celebration and the holiday became a mixture of Aztec traditions and Catholic imagery.
Being raised Catholic, I enjoy the religious symbolism, and the stories behind the Saints. I find a lesson in the beauty of their faith and the brutality they suffered for it. I also find it unsettling that they honor those that suffer for their faith, without truly acknowledging the suffering they put others through. For me, faith doesn’t have to have religious connotations. Faith is a way of looking at life with the belief that there is a greater good and that we all should be working towards it. For ourselves and for everyone else around us.
The Fact of Death
No harm or insult is intended to anyone represented in my work. I paint what I do because it is how I see the world. Death finds us all, in the time of his own choosing. Fearing it will not make it go away. Demonizing it will not alter the fact that death always wins. I include it in my art, because it is already included in my life. Day of the Dead art for me is a celebration of life and the afterlife.