Mexican Americans continue their observance of Christ's life into the New Year. The end of the calendar year on December 31 is marked with a mass to give thanks for God's grace, while prayers beseech blessings for the New Year. On January 6, the Day of the Wise Men or El Dia de los Reyes, children reflect on the virtues of gratitude while learning about compassion toward animals. Traditionally, Mexican children also receive Christmas gifts on January 6 just as the Three Wise Men brought gifts to the baby Jesus. The evening prior, children place straw in their shoes for the Wise Men's camels only to awaken to them filled with candy and toys.
Spring observances of the resurrection of Christ begin with Miercoles de Cenizas or Ash Wednesday. On this holy day of obligation, parishioners attend mass and receive ashes on their forehead in the shape of a cross as a symbol of repentance for past sins. Ash Wednesday also marks the first day of Lent or Cuaresma, a 40-day period before Easter devoted to foregoing an earthly enjoyment in a show of devotion to God. Semana Santa commemorates the final week of Lent, and is a period set aside to observe the slaying of Jesus. The observance of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday highlight the life of Jesus with a procession of Christ's resurrection.
Throughout the year, Mexican Americans commemorate the life of Christ on Earth while celebrating those people who have passed into heaven. The Day of the Dead marks the Mexican American observance of death in life, a custom rooted in Aztec celebrations of the departed. Five hundred years ago, the Aztec month of Miccailhuitontli recognized the deaths of children. Today, El Dia de los Muertos celebrations vary greatly in custom, but all ceremonies mark the passing of the deceased with colorful altars of remembrance on November 1 and 2. The first day of the celebration, which falls on All Saints Day, recounts the memory of departed infants and children, often referred to as angelitos or little angels. All Souls Day or November 2 is a time of remembrance for those who have passed away as adults. During these two days, relatives visit, clean, and adorn gravesites or build altars to the memory of the dead. Altars and gravesites, decorated with papel picado (perforated paper), candles, photographs, and marigold or chrysanthemum flowers, accompany the favorite foods and beverages of the deceased. Artists' use of the calavera or skull in life-like animation reflects the playfulness of the dead and their frolic among the living. The observances of El Dia de los Muertos in the United States remind us that religious practices and art expression, like the Mexican American people themselves, are transnational in nature.
Forces in both the United States and Mexico have shaped the religious practices of Chicanos. While the steady stream of Mexican immigrants remains 88% Catholic, 23% of all Mexican Americans are Protestant. When second- and third-generation Chicanos leave the Catholic Church, many choose to worship at evangelical churches, especially the Pentecostal faith. The history of Mexican American Pentecostals goes back to early 20th-century Texas where Francisco Olazabal (1886-1937) began to hold revival campaigns in 1917. In 1918, Olazabal founded his own church in El Paso as more Spanish-speaking people converted to Pentecostalism. Although there is a wide spectrum in practice and doctrine, in general Pentecostals believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit (charismata) and the Spirit baptism. Pentecostal denominations with large Hispanic memberships include the Assemblies of God, the Church of God in Christ, and the United Pentecostal Church. These churches attract many Mexican Americans into membership because of the high rate of Latino clerical leadership, an emphasis on Hispanic culture, and programs that serve the needs of immigrants, youth, and women.
Church participation makes up the core of Mexican family and community life in the United States. Despite their theological differences, Protestants and Catholics share similar philosophical and moral opinions that may serve as the basis for national political participation. Issues such as immigrant rights, the debate on abortion, and clerical reform of the Roman Catholic Church highlight the role of religion in the shaping of the Mexican American civic voice.