Day of the Dead is Not the Same as Halloween

October 29, 2021

Day of the Dead (Nov. 1-2) or Día de los Muertos and Halloween (Oct. 31) are back-to-back annual celebrations that seem  similar. Both involve costumes, skeletons and the culture of death.

But there are some very big differences. 

Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration on the first and second days of November. It is a time for families to honor the lives of their deceased loved ones with dances, colorful altars with photos, visits to their graves, favorite foods and drinks. Celebrants burn candles during processions to ‘help’ the departed find their homes. These festivities coincide with the time that millions of Monarch butterflies return to forest sanctuaries in Mexico. Aztecs believed that those butterflies carried the spirits of their dead ancestors.

Day of the Dead is now celebrated throughout the world. But it has nothing to do with Halloween traditions of dressing up as Dracula or knocking on doors to ask for treats. 

As a Catholic Latina born and raised on the U.S.-Mexico border who deeply appreciates both cultures, I originally disliked the idea of Día de los Muertos. I could not understand the cleaning and visits to the tombs at the cemetery. The thought of building an altar at home with photos of the deceased and their favorite meals was even worse.

Why did I feel this way? 

I eventually realized it was my fear of not wanting to talk about death.

Until my parents got older, I avoided the subject like the plague.

End-of-life care conversations are not the topic of choice for Latinos, the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States. Ironically, we are the community with the highest rates of life-threatening illnesses, like diabetes and high blood pressure. We are also the least likely to complete advance directives or discuss with their loved ones under which circumstances, if any, we want to receive medical interventions to prolong our life or dying process.

These disparities in utilizing end-of-life care planning that disproportionately impact Latinos are something we can control, by communicating with our doctors and loved ones about whether we would want to be kept alive with aggressive treatments if we become too sick to speak for ourselves.

Nearly 15 years have passed since the deaths of my brother, father and mother. And although it hurts to remember these back-to-back losses over a four-year period, it touches my heart to say the following:

Thanks to end-of-life care planning, they were not connected to tubes and catheters when they died that otherwise would have only prolonged their suffering. They were not revived when their hearts stopped beating. They even had white roses at their funerals, instead of the pink carnations they disliked so much.

As I prepare to end another year without the patriarchs of the Gonzalez family, it fills my heart to know that my siblings and I honored their last wishes, especially when I build an altar in their  memory on Día de los Muertos. 

Patricia A. González-Portillo is a former journalist for The Brownsville [Texas] Herald, La Opinión [Los Angeles], and The [Riverside, CA] Press-Enterprise. Currently, she is the Senior National Latino Media Director for Compassion & Choices, which offers free bilingual consultation and online tools to educate people about their end-of-life care options at

Read more:

El Diario NY
La Opinión, Los Angeles

Compassion & Choices
Media Contacts

Sean Crowley
Media Relations Director
[email protected]

Patricia A. González-Portillo
National Latino Media Director
[email protected]
(323) 819 0310

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