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The Difference Between Halloween and Dia de los Muertos

The Day of the Dead celebrations may coincide with Halloween and seem similar. Both celebrations involve costumes, skeletons and treats as well as graveyards and death imagery.

But according to, there are some big differences.

The Day of the Dead celebrations may coincide with Halloween and seem similar, but there are some big differences.The Day of the Dead holiday, referred to in Spanish as Dia de los Muertos due to its South American origin, is about celebrating the dead, not being afraid of the dead. It’s a holiday for people to honor their ancestors and loved ones who have passed away and invite those spirits back into their homes to be part of the family once more. It’s a celebration of family and a show of respect for those who have passed away.

The practice of celebrating the dead goes back thousands of years in South American cultures. In the Aztec culture the celebration of the dead was in August and went on for a month. During that time the people paid tribute to Catrina, the Goddess of Death, who was portrayed as a skeleton.

Rather than displaying grim or gory decorations, Day of the Dead celebrations involve paying respects to loved ones. Families tend graves and leave offerings, plant flowers and trees, wear the clothes of their deceased relatives, and build altars in their homes to honor their loved ones.

Perhaps the most popular part of the holiday is people turning themselves into skeletons using elaborate makeup and masks. The skeletal appearance highlighted with flowers, bright colors and artwork is a striking image that has now become an icon of the Day of the Dead. These looks are based partly on the decorated sugar skulls that are left on altars as offerings to the spirits and as well as to Catrina.

I must say, that I much prefer Day of the Dead celebrations to Halloween in my older age. Part of it is that I’ve grown more disturbed by the evolution – or perhaps devolution – of Halloween decorations into what are sometimes quite offensive portrayals of horror. But I have a daughter who delights in dressing up, attending the town parade and indulging in candy. I do enjoy those innocent pleasures. So I will happily take my 8-year-old daughter through our neighborhood to ask for candy on Halloween. But I will also honor the memory of my mother in the coming days.

Will you celebrate anyone? What are your family’s traditions around Day of the Dead and Halloween?

This post originally appeared on the ThinkTank12 blog.

Image Credit – Larry Lamsa / CC by 2.0


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Deanna Glick

Deanna Glick

Deanna Glick has spent two decades as a writer and editor, covering education policy, adoption, and other issues of interest to children and families. Deanna has also worked and volunteered for youth-focused nonprofits, including Students Run LA and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. A California native, Deanna loves to hike sections of the Appalachian Trail and spend time on the Shenandoah River near her Northern Virginia home. She often finds writing inspiration through her 8-year-old daughter, who loves to read, paint, play sports, and learn.

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