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Difference between Halloween and The Day of the Dead

Halloween and Day of the dead certainly have more than several similarities such as costumes, decorations, the tradition of honoring the dead, and the festive mood. In these holidays, families and friends get together and celebrate with food, specially sweets, and various colorful activities. However, Halloween is widely known as a Western Christian observance on the 31st of October while the Day of the Dead is Mexican holiday on the 1st of November. The following discussions further delve into such distinctions.

What is Halloween?

Halloween is also known as All Hollow’s Eve, Hallows’ Evening, Hallowe’en, AllHalloween, or All Hallow’s Day. “Hallow” came from the Old English word “hālga” which means “holy”. Hence, it is also called All Saints’ Eve or All Saints’ Day to remember the departed saints including all of those who passed away. This is celebrated on every 31st of October in a number of cultures which were influenced by Western Christian practices.

Brief History:

  • Celtic festival of “Samhain”

This was known as a very important festival on October 31 to November 1 which was observed in Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. This is analogous to Wales’ “Calan Gaefaf”, Cornwall’s “Kalan Gwav”, and then “Britanny’s” “Kalan Goanv”. It was believed to be the day when the veil between the dead and the living was at its thinnest. It was also meant to remember the departed and they used masks and costumes like what is done today.

  • Pope Gregory III’s oratory in St. Peter

In 731 to 741, an oratory was founded on October 31 for the vestiges of martyrs, confessors, apostles, and saints. Moreover, the Catholic church sought to unite the pagan practice with the Christian belief.

  • Europe’s “Holy Days of Obligation”

Ringing church bells, sharing “soul cakes”, and a parade of “criers” became a custom in the 12th century to remember souls and pray for the dead.

What is Day of the Dead?

Day of the Dead is a translation of the Spanish “Dia de Muertos” which is a widely known Mexican Holiday. This is specifically celebrated on November 1 and it highlights the gathering of families to remember their loved ones who already passed away. Notably, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially included this tradition in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.

Brief History:

  • Aztec festival for the goddess Mictecacihuatl (Lady of the Dead)

The ancient Aztecs honored the “Queen of the Underworld” whose role was to oversee the festivals of the dead as well as to care for their bones. Mictecacihuatl was believed to be sacrificed as an infant.

  • Mexico in the early 21st century

“Dia de Muertos” was declared as a public holiday to give time to families to get together and observe their traditions. Analogous to Mictecachihuatl, La Calavera Catrina, also known as Catrina La Calavera Garbancera is the referential death icon in Mexico.

Difference between Halloween and the Day of the Dead

  1. Date

Halloween is observed on October 31st while Day of the Dead starts on November 1.

  1. Origin

Halloween as Celtic and Gaelic roots while Day of the Dead has an Aztec origin.

  1. Main Culture

The main culture associated with Halloween is European which later spread to America due to the influx of Irish immigrants during the Great Famine in 1845 to 1849. Nowadays, many countries have adopted the practice. On the other hand, Day of the Dead is generally Mexican that is why it is also now popularly referred to as “Mexican Halloween”.

  1. Activities

During Holloween, Jack o’ Lanterns are carved and many wear costumes and children usually go treat or treating. During the Day of the Dead, families remember their loved ones and visit them in the cemetery. They also make small altars with the dead person’s photograph and they offer food, favorite things, prayers, and incense.

  1. Symbols

Halloween is often symbolized by Jack o’ Lanterns, bats, ghosts, vampires, witches, and the like while day of the dead is usually associated with skulls and the Lady of the Dead.

  1. Remembering the Dead

Though both holidays reminisce the departed, Day of the Dead is keener at remembering their departed relatives and friends, specially their ancestors. In some parts of Mexico, November 1 is specifically devoted to the remembrance of dead children and November 2 is for the adults. On the other hand, Halloween is currently less associated with rituals regarding paying respects to those who passed away though its origin is also on remembering saints and martyrs.

  1. Spirituality

Day of the Dead is more associated with spirituality as prayers with incense are ritually offered. Nowadays, Halloween is more connected with fancy costumes and themed parties.

Halloween vs Day of the Dead : Comparison Chart



Day of the Dead

Date October 31 November 1
Origin Celtic and Gaelic Aztec
Main Culture European and American Mexican
Activities Carving Jack o’ Lanterns, trick or treating, wearing costumes, throwing themed parties Skull themed face painting, parades, dancing, cleaning and visiting cemeteries, and offering food, prayers, and incense.
Symbols Jack o’ Lanterns, witches, ghosts, vampires, and other similar creatures Skulls and the Lady of the Dead
Remembering the Dead Nowadays, departed loved ones are not that emphasized Departed loved ones and ancestors
Spirituality Not highlighted Shown through offering prayers

Summary of Halloween vs Day of the Dead

  • Halloween and day of the dead certainly have more than several similarities such as costumes, decorations, the tradition of honoring the dead, and a festive mood.
  • “Hallow” came from the Old English word “hālga” which means “holy”.
  • Day of the Dead is a translation of the Spanish “Dia de Muertos” which is a widely known Mexican Holiday.
  • Halloween is observed on October 31st and it has Gaelic and Celtic roots while Day of the Dead starts on November 1 and it has an Aztec origin.
  • Unlike Halloween, Day of the Dead is more associated with spirituality, remembering departed loved ones, and honoring ancestors.
  • The usual symbols for Halloween are Jack o’ Lanterns, witches, and vampires while those of Day of the Dead are skulls and the Lady of the Dead.

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1 Comment

  1. Your day of the dead vs Halloween essay is far from the original.
    The cultures worldwide that have similar festivals are each one memorialisation of the same event. Going to the Hebrew text and correlated calendar (lunar) the date which ALL cultures fall at nearly the same time yearly is in fact documented in scripture. The worldwide flood that eradicated the human species fell on or about the 30 of October through November 3.
    It is recorded in scripture as the seventeenth day of the second month. That is the day Noah was given as the beginning of the Flood Story in the Hebrew, Jewish, and Christian testaments. Please do your research in full, not back only as far as satisfies yourself. A true researcher looks for the exactness and not only folklore.
    Thank you for your time.

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References :

[0]Jones, Theodore. Celebrating Day of the Dead. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Publication, 2016. Print.

[1]Kelley, Ruth Edna. The Book of Hallowe’en. Scotts Valley, CA: Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2014. Print.

[2]Lee, Sally. A Short History of Halloween. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2015. Print.

[3]Photo Credit: By -jkb- [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

[4]Photo Credit: Tomas Castelazo,Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Calaveras_skulls.jpg

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