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Are Halloween and Day of the Dead Different?

Are Halloween and Day of the Dead Different?

The festival of Halloween and the Day of the Dead, both, are associated with the dead, celebrated around the same time, and are often celebrations that are supplanted for each other. Halloween and Day of the Dead are quite different from each other. Let's go back to where it all began.
Foram Mehta
Though Halloween and Day of the Dead are used as synonyms, their significance is different. Halloween originated from the Celts. It is based on the Celtic festival of Samhain. It is associated with the evil spirits, witches, and souls of the dead. On the other hand, Day of the Dead originates from an Aztec festival. It is associated with remembering and calling the souls of the lost loved ones. Let's go deeper to see how different these two festivals are.

About Halloween
Halloween, as a festival, came into practice about 600 years ago, when people were shifting from paganism to Christianity extensively. To make the conversion easier, the church allowed the pagans to keep a few of their customs in practice. Apparently, Halloween is one of them. However, it is now termed as a Christian festival. The tradition of Halloween was initially celebrated on the 31st October to honor the 'Goddess of the Fruits' called 'Pomona'. This was done so that the Goddess would bless everyone with good vegetation in winter. This tradition was later made extensive by honoring the 'Lord of the dead', named Samhain, on the 1st November. The druids believed that a day before 1st November, Samhain called out to all the evil spirits. People were scared of this and therefore, all the people dressed up like evils themselves, to scare the evil spirits away.

About Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead, as a festival, was practiced since 3000 years. The Day of the Dead, which is celebrated on the 1st and the 2nd of November, signifies the honor of 'Samhain'. It is also popularly known as Dia de los Muertos. It is believed that on these two days, all the dead people come back to earth, to meet their loved ones. On the 1st of November, the souls of all the deceased priests who were not recognized in Christendom were remembered. That is how the name 'All Saints Day' is kept. After this, it was decided that souls of all the dead people should be remembered as well, and that is why 2nd November is celebrated as the 'All Soul's Day'. Families clean the graves of their loved ones and decorate it with flowers, gifts and candles. At home, altars are made on which a photo of all the dead people from the families are kept along with their favorite dishes, fruits, and personal belongings are offered to them. This is called ofrenda. The Day of the Dead is not supposed to be scary, but holy. It is a day on which, all those who have lost their loved ones, remember them fondly and speak of all the funny and trivial things. It is supposed to be a holy day, where the spirits that traverse on the earth are welcomed and remembered. It's believed that, when the spirits come down and if they are not happy with the offerings made to them, they return unhappily, without blessing the family. Therefore, many people take the rituals followed in this festival very seriously. A lot of time and money is spent on the decoration and the offerings made, to please the souls of the dead. It is believed that the souls of the dead will visit the altar and consume the offerings. Of course, the food is not really eaten, but its soul or essence is consumed by the spirits. The same food is then consumed by all the family members.

Halloween Day of the Dead
Customs Today, Halloween is associated with having fun in a scary way. Costume parties are organized across the states. Games are played, horror movies are watched, horror stories are narrated and special delicacies are prepared.

Halloween describes the beginning of winter. In the olden days, there was scarcity of food and therefore people used to go out begging for food. Trick-or-treating is the term used by the people when they went out asking for food. It's like saying, treat me with food or I'll curse you. Today, this practice is followed by the children for the sake of fun. They dress up in costumes and go to their neighbor's place asking for Halloween treats such as pastries, chocolates, sweets, etc. People keep the sweets and desserts ready for the children to offer them.

Keeping Jack-o'-lanterns
Jack-o'-lantern is the first thing that comes into our minds when we think of Halloween. The practice of keeping a carved pumpkin with a lit candle inside, comes from the story of a man named Jack. Jack was a miser and was not allowed an entry in heaven as well as hell. It is believed that, he was cursed to wander on the streets of earth for his sins. He wandered on the earth with a lantern made up of a carved turnip till the day of his judgment. That's how the name 'Jack-o'-lanterns' was kept.

Games Played
  • Apple Bobbing
    Apple bobbing is a game in which one has to lift apples using his/her mouth and put it out of a bucket filled with water. Using of hands is not allowed. Apples float on the water, and they go down with even a little pressure. It's fun to watch people struggling to grab the apples with their mouth.
  • Visiting Haunted Attractions
    Many places, which look spooky or are considered haunted are visited by the people. These places are turned into ghost houses, and attractions like ghost rides and ghost shows are arranged.
  • Looking into the Mirror
    This is a traditional practice followed by unmarried girls. On the day of Halloween, unmarried girls have to sit in front of a mirror in the dark. It was a belief that unmarried girls will see the face of the man they are going to marry in the mirror. However, if a girl is going to die before getting married, then she will see the face of a skull.
  • Fortune Teller
    During the Halloween, many fortune-telling games are played. One example is, many symbols (on paper) expressing different fortunes are kept in a dish. Participants have to wet their finger and close their eyes, after which they are supposed to put that finger on the dish. Whatever, sticks to the person's hand, is said to be his/her fortune.
  • Writing in Walnut Shells
    In this game, people are asked to write fortunes on a blank piece of paper with milk. The paper is dried and then kept in a walnut-shell. The shells warm up later, and the writing in milk turns brown.
The principle behind the holiday for the Day of the Dead is "whatever pleased the dead in life they are to have again. It is a holiday when the whole family comes together - both living and dead. This holiday festivity is believed to be a time for the departed to join the living in the celebrations of the 'continuum of life'."

Day of the Dead is meant to be a spiritual festival. It is a festival in which the souls of the deceased are not feared, but are lovingly remembered. Many practice this festival so that their children learn to accept death and post-death state of a person as a joyful experience.

Altares - Ofrendas
Making an altar is the most important ritual practiced in the festival of the 'Day of the Dead'. Each home has an altar made, and it is decorated with marigold flowers and copal incense. Photos of the deceased are kept on it and offerings are made in the form of food, drinks, favorite possessions, lit candles, etc. It basically comprises worldly/materialistic things they enjoyed when they were alive.

People, after making and decorating the altar, visit the graveyard to clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones. Candles are lit throughout the day, and offerings are made. If a child's grave is being visited, then toys are kept for him/her on the grave. People go in groups to the graveyard and spend their entire day there, like a picnic. It is the opposite of what is followed in Halloween.

During the Day of the Dead, people gather on the streets and walk in parades. A place or a street is decided and people get dressed in various costumes and march together. There is music, food and sweets all around. Even though people are remembering the 'dead', the surroundings are colorful and all are in a festive mood. In most of the places, the festival of 'Day of the Dead' is observed as a dry day.

Hang Food Outside the Door
During the two days, people hang food items like candies, sweets, etc., outside their doors. This is done so that the souls passing by can have them. This is basically done to show respect to all the souls.

Day of the Dead Toys / Souvenirs
  • Wooden Miniatures
  • Paper Coffins with Skeletons
  • Papel Picado (tissue paper cutouts)
  • Painted Clay Skeleton Figures
  • Crank Boxes
  • Pull Toy
  • Catrina Dolls
  • Tree of Death Candelabra
  • Witch Costume
  • Mummy's Costumes
  • Harry Potter Character's Costumes
  • Scary Goblins
  • Bloodcurdling Shriek Costumes
  • Dracula/Vampire's Costume
  • Costumes of Princesses (Cinderella, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty)
  • Gothic Look
  • Fairy Costumes
  • Religious Costumes
  • Outfit with Skulls
  • Outfit with Coffins
  • Catrina Outfit
  • Skeleton Bride Costume
  • Calypso Man Costume
  • Gaucho Costume
  • Serape Costume
  • Hombre Costume
  • Senorita Costume
  • Flamenco Dancer Costume
Food and Drinks
  • Cup cakes
  • Soul Pastries
  • Apple Candies
  • Marinated Mozzarella Eyeballs
  • Roasted Flesh Worm
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Spooky Sugar Cookies
  • Bat Wings
  • Dried Scabs
  • Caramel Apples
  • Caramel Corn
  • Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
  • Colcannon
  • Spooky (blood-red/black) Cocktails
  • Tamales
  • Chicken in Mole
  • Chiles
  • Enchiladas
  • Alfenique
  • Egg-rich "bread of the dead"
  • Pan de Muerto
  • Candy Santa
  • Pumpkin Candy
  • Sugar Skulls
  • Alcoholic Mescal
  • Pulque
  • Atole
  • Corn Drink

In present times, these festivals are treated as one. Most of the people from the new generation are not aware of its significance and symbolism. There are very few people, today, who celebrate this day traditionally. Mexico and Brazil are the two countries, where these two festivals are celebrated traditionally and extensively.
Mexican Day Of The Dead Altar
Scary Halloween Background
Lanterns Halloween Pumpkin