Newsflash: Halloween and Day of the Dead are not the same! The two holidays may fall on the same days but they are wildly different. So, what is the difference between Halloween and Day of the Dead exactly?
See for yourself! Download this free activity guide to experience Day of the Dead with your family or watch below. You can also find the information on the Families Embracing Diversity Podcast.
Difference #1: Halloween is about fear, Day of the Dead is about honoring those who have passed.
During Halloween, kids dress up in scary costumes, go door to door asking for candy and scare themselves silly in haunted houses. The main goal is to scream your head off and get a good sugar high.
Day of the Dead, on the other hand, is about honoring those who have passed. Families go to the graveyard to clean up the graves. In their homes, they make altars with photos of their family members and the items that the person most loved in life. This gives the family time to reminisce and honor those who are no longer living.
According to Day of the Dead tradition, on November 1st and 2nd, the deceased spirits are able to come spend the day with their living family members. Although hanging out with spirits may sound a little creepy, it is a way to symbolically spend more time with loved ones who have passed and a reminder that their memories will always be with us.
Difference #2: Halloween is October 31st. Day of the Dead is October 31st-November 2nd.
Halloween is a one-day shindig that really just focuses on a few hours of trick or treating at dusk.
Day of the Dead is a three-day party. It is believed that the spirits of deceased children come to visit on the 31st at midnight and spend the day of 1st with the family. On the night of the 1st, the adult spirits come and spend the day of the 2nd with their family.
During the day on November 1st and 2nd, the family gathers to celebrate, remember their loved ones who have passed and share a meal together.
Difference #3: How both holidays began
According to the History Channel, Halloween began with a Celtic festival, Samhain. They also believed that the souls of the dead returned on the 31st. However, they feared the mischevious souls and took measures to protect themselves, which resulted in our modern-day Halloween decorations.
Poor people would go to wealthier homes to receive “soul cakes” and promised to pray for the souls of the deceased. In Scotland and Ireland, young people began dressing up in costumes and offering songs or jokes, instead of prayers, to receive a treat. This was the beginning of Trick or Treat.
Day of the Dead originated around 3000 years ago. It is a mixture of the Catholic All Saints and All Souls Day and the ancient Aztec and Nahua traditions. Originally Day of the Dead was mostly celebrated in small towns in Mexico. However, it has no spread throughout Mexico, across Latin America, and into the US.
Difference #4: The Decorations
Sometimes images speak louder than words:
Halloween decorations are generally dark and creepy, which traces back to the original celebration, Samhain. They also believed that the spirits could come back to visit on the 31st but instead of being excited about it, they were scared. To protect themselves, they carved frightening faces in gourds and put candles inside to ward off spirits. They also dressed up in masks to make them look scary or even dead so that any spirits who encountered them would think the person was already a spirit as well and leave him or her alone.
Day of the Dead decorations, on the other hand, are more focused on bringing the souls home to their family and welcoming them. The candles and orange flowers are meant to lay a path back home. The foods left on the altars are to allow the spirits to enjoy their favorite things again.
The calaveras (skulls) and calacas (skeletons) are generally dressed in fancy clothing and shown in humorous situations to portray the joy of life.
La Catrina, the image you see above, is based upon the Aztec goddess of death. She was originally drawn by a political cartoonist, Jose Guadalupe Posada. He drew la Catrina during a time when many Mexicans were trying to dress and act like the wealthy European aristocrats of the time. His underlying message was to stop trying so hard and just to be who you are. In the end, we will all end up dead.
The Main Difference Between Halloween and Day of the Dead
As you can see, there is a big difference between Halloween and Day of the Dead.
Day of the Dead celebrates the life of those who have passed away while modern-day Halloween focuses more on the dark side of death.
If you want to spend time connecting with your kids and passing down memories of loved ones who have passed, consider celebrating Day of the Dead with your family. Download this free activity guide and let the fun begin!
If you enjoyed this post be sure to check out:
The Pros and Cons of a Cultural Festival (in case you plan to head to a local Day of the Dead celebration)