Halloween and Day of the Dead

The end of October and the beginning of November is a mystical season in many Western countries where Halloween and the Day of the Dead are celebrated, two holidays with very similar origins but that have taken on different meanings, forms and traditions over time and space.

Currently Halloween is celebrated in most of the English-speaking countries of Europe and North America every October 31, although it has already spread to other countries, and it is the United States where the party takes on a spectacular and massive twist with entire houses decorated with Jack-o-lanterns and terrifying statues, and costumes that go from the traditional witch and skeleton to the fantastic superheroes or famous assassins of history.

On the other hand, the Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 and 2 in most of the Spanish-speaking countries of Europe and Latin America, but it is in Mexico where the holiday becomes exponentially amazing. It is believed that on those nights the souls of the dead return home to meet their loved ones, so the reception is majestic and there is no shortage of food, drink, music, dancing, tears and laughter.

Origin of Halloween and Day of the Dead

Origin of Halloween and Day of the Dead

There is much debate about it, but all historians agree that both celebrations have an important Christian component that has been mixed with deeply rooted local traditions.

The word Halloween comes from the Scottish Hallowe’en which is equivalent to the English All Hallows Eve and is of Christian origin. However, the holiday is full of traditions and elements of the Celtic Samhain festival that marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the darkest time of the year. At night people gathered in cemeteries around bonfires and feasts to open the tombs of their dead and, thus, portals to the afterlife.

The Day of the Dead is the result of a syncretism between the Catholic celebrations of All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day with various pre-Hispanic traditions of Latin America, specifically in Mexico, where the cult of the dead and ancestors was widespread and very sophisticated. In fact, upon the arrival of the Spanish, there were three celebrations for the dead that the Aztecs carried out throughout the year, which ended up in one that also assimilated the Catholic holiday at the beginning of November.

How are Halloween and the Day of the Dead Celebrated?

In both cases it depends a lot on the country and the locality in question. However, we can generalize from the traditions of the countries where each celebration is most forceful: the United States and Mexico.

Halloween in the United States

Most of the traditions and elements of Halloween in the United States were brought by Irish and Scottish immigrants in the early 19th century. Currently, children and teenagers dress up as their favorite monster, superhero or fantastic, historical or terrifying character, go out into the streets and stop at each house to shout “trick or treat?”. This means that if the inhabitants of the house do not open the door to give candy or money, they will cause mischief.

This procession, which represents souls in search of rest, has moved to theme parks, shopping centers and costume parties for youngsters and elders where there is eating, drinking and a spectacular display of ingenuity to win the prize for best costume.

Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead in Mexico

The tradition is to place an altar for the dead in each house. The altar includes elements with specific symbology, in addition to the photograph, favorite foods and drinks of the deceased who visits the house. Many people claim that the foods and drinks on the altar no longer taste the next day. Currently, the altar is placed by universities, companies, museums and other popular places as a tribute to Mexican culture.

Another activity consists of covering the graves of the dead with flowers and candles, and singing and drinking all night in the cemetery. This powerfully draws the attention of foreign visitors who are amazed to see a real party in the cemetery and the passionate way with which Mexicans claim to be in the company of their deceased that night.

Symbols of Halloween and the Day of the Dead


  • The decoration of the house includes representations of crows, Jack-o-lanterns, bats, ghosts, witches and skeletons, all representing souls seeking a place of rest
  • A good costume that guarantees the prize
  • Caramel apples


Day of the Dead

  • The altar must have representations of the four elements:
    • Candles and marigold flowers that guide the path to souls
    • Water to quench the thirst of the spirit
    • Cut paper that announces the arrival of souls when moving with the wind
    • Seeds that remember the cycle of life and death
  • The deceased’s favorite food and drink
  • The photograph of the deceased