Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Halloween & Day of the Dead: Two Different Celebrations

Depending on what you read, the origin of Halloween

  • is rooted in the Christian ‘All Hallow’s Eve’– the first of three days for remembrance of the dead and saintly martyrs or
  • is based in Celtic pagan celebrations, which mark the end of the harvest season.

Either way, Halloween has departed from its roots, is almost entirely independent of Christian or pagan beliefs and has become a lighthearted, fun celebration for children and adults alike. Little ghosts and goblins still go knocking on doors for candy but now they are more often cartoon characters and movie stars. It’s a chance for childish masquerade.

Although Halloween is finding its way in, it’s still not fully embraced outside of North America. For instance, some children in the UK go door to door but many homes go dark and don’t respond. In South America Halloween is really only embraced in urban centres by disco-going youth looking for a special party and a handful of children whose parents want to participate in the spirit of the North American celebration. But it’s confusing for some.

In Chile many say Halloween is something from ‘gringo-landia’ and it’s seen as a rude, commercial intrusion into their sacred Day of the Dead. Because Halloween entered into Chilean culture only recently, not everyone even knows it exists. For example, on Halloween 2000, an elderly Chilean lady, as religious and superstitious as one could be, was boiling hot water for tea when someone knocked on her door. When she opened it and saw a small devil standing in front of her, she was frightened out of her wits. She panicked, picked up the kettle and threw boiling water at the little devil. The parents of the child in devil costume took the old lady to court. She was found not guilty for an obscure reason to do with being ignorant of the festivity and defending herself from the devil in her own home.

Halloween is fun in North America. And the Day of the Dead is sacred in South America. I don’t know if the two will meet in a cooperative spirit. The following photos clearly demonstrate the difference between cultures.

Dressed up for Halloween

Last year Canadian girls Kelsey and Shelbi got their mother to deck them out in iconic Mexican Day of the Dead style while little Britynn was dressed as a cat. Costumes by Tami Carter are fabulous and get better each year. 


Family sharing a meal at a graveside, Day of the Dead

In contrast, a family just outside of Quito sits down to share a meal at the tomb of a dead relative. It’s a serious family day that usually means working together, sharing memories and paying respects to those gone before them. It’s an effort to keep the family (both dead and alive) involved in each other’s lives.