At first glance, Halloween and Dia de los Muertos may seem to have a lot in common. People dress up in costume for both holidays, after all and both Halloween and Dia de los Muertos have death as a central focus. If you’re planning to visit the Devela Worldschool Hub in Guanajuato, Mexico, you’ll want to know the difference between these two holidays so you can tease apart the experience into something that makes sense to your kids. Guanajuato, after all, is a prime Dìa de los Muertos destination in Mexico (its colorful celebrations were once featured in National Geographic).

When we first moved to Guanajuato, someone told me that Dìa de los Muertos was like Halloween if Halloween were Thanksgiving. In other words, the Dìa de los Muertos celebrations were very family-oriented and ceremonial, not mischievous. This helped us make sense of the goings-on here, but it’s taken years for us to really understand the subtle nuances of this Mexican holiday. Indeed, we’re still learning!

Halloween is not a family-centric holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving. In fact, American Halloween celebrations often include friends as much as relatives. Everyone can participate and in fact, parties are a common feature of this holiday. Dia de los Muertos, on the other hand is often celebrated with family members more like the way people celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States.

Halloween originated in Europe as Samhain while Day of the Dead has pre-Hispanic and Catholic origins. While Halloween takes place on October 31 each year, Dia de los Muertos takes place over the course of two days, November 1 (All Saint’s Day) and November 2. On November 1st, families honor the souls of children who have passed over and on November 2nd, families honor the souls of deceased adults. Because Dìa de los Muertos is all about honoring one’s ancestors, the holiday tends to be very focused around family activities in cemeteries and the creation of a family altar. Mexicans believe that the souls of close relatives come to visit them during Dìa de los Muertos

On the other hand, Halloween is viewed as a date when the veils between worlds is thin and it is possible to communicate more readily with all spirits that have passed over. At Halloween, people carve jack o`lanterns and decorate their houses with macabre themes. Halloween has often been associated with mischief and merry-making. Kids go trick-or-treating in costumes and adults may throw costume parties. Though most Americans acknowledge that spirits are more likely to visit them at Halloween, they don’t necessarily believe the spirits are those of ancestors, but rather random lost or lonely souls who are trying to scare the living or just communicate with them.  

At the Devela Worldschool Community in Guanajuato, Mexico, we’ve organized a spectacular Halloween event along with Día de los Muertos tours for traveling homeschoolers who want to see this authentically Mexican celebration up close and personal. For more information about our worldschooling fall sessions, contact Jennifer Shipp at jennifershipp1976@gmail.com.

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