If you’ve ever wondered just what the differences are between Halloween vs Day of the Dead, don’t worry! Tons of people have asked exactly that. To be honest, as someone who spent my life in the middle of Generic Small Town, USA, I was one of them. I can say that while I knew there WAS a difference, I couldn’t have told you what that was exactly.
Until the middle of college, my only experience with Dia de los Muertos was a Spanish teacher groaning every time I messed up the pronunciation. I was a kid raised on Halloween. Candy, costumes, pumpkins, and scary movies! So if you’d like to know a little bit more to better understand Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, look no further. Here are some of the most popular questions I could find put together for you in one handy blog!
When are Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrated?
Halloween is celebrated on October 31st. It has roots in both Pagan and Christian religions. Much of Halloween is inspired by Samhain, a festival that marks the end of the harvest. But as Christianity swept over Europe, the Catholic church increased conversions by trying to make Samhain theirs. Since All Saint’s Day already happened on November 1st, they changed October 31st into All Saint’s Eve, or All Hallow’s Eve. The name slowly morphed into “Halloween.”
Dia de los Muertos is celebrated from October 31st until November 2nd. On the 31st, children and families make altars to invite the spirits of dead children to visit. November 1st is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits will be invited to come visit. Finally, on November 2nd (All Soul’s day) families will go to their family’s graves to decorate the tombs of their relatives and honor their dead loved ones.
Why celebrate these holidays?
Halloween has become a very commercial holiday. On the surface it’s non-religious, and a day to have fun, let loose, dress up, and get treats! It’s the perfect holiday to let your hair down and become what you’ve always wanted to be. Zombie on the loose, there’s a make-up tutorial for that! Sexy doctor, go right ahead? Custom made superhero whose powers get seemingly stronger the more candy you eat? Well, that’s the perfect excuse to go Trick-or-treating right?!
Of course for many it is still a religious holiday. So it’s good to be mindful of your friends, and respect them if they say they’re skipping the costumes in favor of evening observances. Whatever Halloween means to you, it has become a great time to celebrate the end of summer and tons of nostalgia.
Dia de Los Muertos while many confuse the bright sugar skulls and vibrant attire for Halloween costumes, that isn’t the case. Even if you don’t follow the strict Mexican/Catholic traditions that brought about Day of the Dead, you can certainly appreciate them. This holiday embraces spirits (and grief for lost loved ones) as something natural and normal. While Halloween creates a spooky shadow, Dia de Los Muertos reminds you of your loved ones and that their souls watch over you.
Food, family, friends, and music are huge during the holiday. Thankfully for your teeth, the celebrations menu goes beyond just candy and sweets (some examples of the sweet gourmet gifts here). Be mindful of your friends during the end of October. If you find out they celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, take the time to ask them about their loved ones. This is the time for remembrance, and asking for them to share with you a tale of their deceased family will show your respect and bring the two of you closer.
What are the symbols for Halloween vs Dia de Los Muertos?
Halloween symbolism is rife with Autumn symbols. Pumpkins, leaves, full moons, and bats are everywhere. But there is also the creepier side of things: ghosts, graves, monsters, demons, and skeletons are all popular Halloween decorations. Recently thanks to certain television shows zombies, vampires, and even werewolves have become extra popular! So don’t be too shocked if your neighbor has a few extra realistic plastic body parts in their yard.
Dia de Los Muertos by contrast is downright artistic and peaceful. Skulls and skeletons are proudly on display. The artistry that goes into sugar skulls is absolutely captivating. Flowers, candles, and religious icons help bring family peace and serenity as they fill their homes with spirits of the past.
Do you really need gifts on Halloween or Day of the Dead?
The answer for both holidays is the same, no you don’t NEED Halloween gifts. However it’s fun to give them! And you can give pretty much the same things. Candy or other sweets are an excellent treat for children and adults. Though for people who don’t have much of a sweet tooth you can also go for liquor or gourmet gifts. Lavish celebrations and parties with sweet treats are popular ways of celebrating each holiday, and sending extra food will help your friends make it through their hosting duties.
For Dia de Los Muertos, go the extra mile and pick something you know their deceased loved ones like. Many families believe that serving their lost loved one’s favorite food during this holiday helps the dead spirits find home.
Where do people celebrate these holidays?
You might be surprised to find that people celebrate both holidays all over the world because of immigration. However, Halloween is most popular in the US, Canada, and Ireland. Day of the Dead is most popular in Mexico and the US.
Where ever you and your loved ones are, whichever holiday they celebrate, be sure to do it safely! A quick phone call, e-mail, or Halloween gift will help you include your loved ones in your celebrations even if they can’t be there in person. Just be mindful of making your office events or public parties inclusive. There’s so much overlap in the holidays it’s easy to include everyone and not be offensive.