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Dia De Los Muertos Vs Halloween

Updated on October 20, 2014
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A Creepy Time of Year

Halloween and the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) fall very close to each other, with Halloween on October 31 and the Day of the Dead on November 2nd. Some of the traditional decorations for Dia de los Muertos have gradually been incorporated into Halloween celebrations, to the point where it can be difficult for the uninformed to tell the two apart.

But what do these two holidays actually have in common? And in what very important ways do they differ?

A grave decorated for the Dia de los Muertos, by Ute Hagen
A grave decorated for the Dia de los Muertos, by Ute Hagen

Dia de los Muertos

The Day of the Dead correlates to All Souls' Day on November 2nd. It was originally a Mexican celebration, although it is increasingly celebrated in the United States as well.

The Day of the Dead is a celebration of lost loved ones, and usually involves feasting, family gatherings and visiting the graves of relatives and friends. The graves will be tidied and decorated and stories will be told about the deceased. Food is an important part of the holiday and the favourite foods of those who have died will often be brought to their graves as gifts. Sugar skulls, representing the dead, are also created and displayed on altars. Some other symbols of the day include marigolds and stylized skeletons. The point of the holiday is to be joyous and celebrate those who have gone before us, so there is a lot of bright color and humor.

This day has origins that date back for thousands of years, and other countries around South America and Europe have similar traditions. Way back then, however, the skulls were most likely not made out of sugar.

Jack 'o Lantern
Jack 'o Lantern

Halloween

Halloween is also related to All Saints' Day (the day before All Souls' Day) and is celebrated on October 31st. Originally it was called "All Hallow's Eve". It is supposed to be the night of the year that the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest, and the dead could walk among the living. Rather than encouraging the spirits with food and marigolds, the costumes worn on Halloween were originally supposed to ward off dangerous ghosts by disguising the person within. Bonfires, food and harvest symbols, like broomsticks and pumpkins are also traditional.

Halloween has become much more secular than its origins however, and is generally now considered a good excuse for a party, and for consuming piles of candy, and pranks.

Controversial Choices

Dia de los Muertos has very distinctive, very beautiful designs associated with it and unfortunately, often people from cultures which don't celebrate the festival will use the designs in inappropriate ways.

Sexy costumes for Halloween featuring sugar skull masks, for example, could be seen as an insult to Mexican customs. Since Dia de los Muertos is about celebrating those beloved ones who have passed, it is best to treat all the associated designs with respect.


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Dia de los Muertos for Children

The video below is a short but gorgeous animated introduction to the emotional heart of the festival.

Day of the Dead vs. Halloween

I would love people to share their own traditions here for celebrating either or both of these holidays. Please let us know what you would do on the day and where you are from in the comments below.

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