Why You Should Know the Difference Between Dia de Los Muertos and Halloween

It’s that time of year again, when the stores begin to get crowded with spider webs, ghouls, bloody fangs, and all those creepy crawlies. The one holiday where everything dead and undead gets to come out and chill our bones to the core. 

Amidst all these decorations, however, there comes the point where you see a distinction. If you didn’t already know, two very similar holidays happen very close to each other: Halloween and Day of the Dead. For many, seeing the colorful skull decorations (Catrinas/Sugar Skulls) and the paper cutouts (papel picado) seems to correlate perfectly with Halloween, most of the time even blending into one. These two very similar decorations may appear multi-purpose at face-value, but they stand for two different occasions. 

Orange and gray jack-o-lantern

Halloween is a time for enjoying pumpkin spice goodies, hanging up those spooky webs, and binging a series of movies related to brain-eating zombies or happy-go-lucky Disney monsters. It all comes down to celebrating the creepy and the dead, in layman’s terms.  

For background, Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, is derived from the Celtic festival Samhain. The festival consists of wearing costumes and performing rituals to keep spirits and ghosts away from crops. A lot of these traditions were based on the fact that Halloween marked the cusp between summer and fall/winter, the deceased’s life, and the legacy they have left behind.

Woman dressed as witch holding a cup

Instead of hanging up webs and dressing up as vampires, in Mexico, Day of the Dead is filled with colorful altars, zempasúchitl (marigolds), and food offerings. If you’ve ever seen the movie Coco, then you probably have a rough idea of what I’m talking about. Altars and food offerings are established to help their deceased loved ones gain the energy they require to cross toward the afterlife. It is assumed that in instances where there are no altars or offerings, the souls of the loved ones could be lost (as seen in the movie). 

Now at the end of this spiel, I hope you can say that you understand and have learned something new — whether it’s the distinction between the Day of the Dead and Halloween, or just the history of either!