Day of the Dead, All Souls Day, even All Saints Day - the start of November marks some significant annual celebrations that honour the deceased and celebrate the life they lived.

I’m not talking about Halloween – although the tradition of dressing up in scary costumes and trick-or-treating has origins in these celebrations.

Regardless of faith or spiritual belief, a person’s life and legacy do not have to end once they have died. But rather, the memories of their time on this earth and the love they shared in life can be celebrated by those left behind.

Annual celebrations, like Day of the Dead and the Christian All Souls’ Day, are observed around the world to honour the life and death of those who are no longer with us.

What is Day of the Dead?

You may have heard of the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos – or at least recognise the sugar skull that has become a Mexican icon in popular culture.

The two-day celebration is observed mostly throughout Latin America and the United States, to honour loved ones who have died. The holiday is held annually on November 2, corresponding with the Catholic celebrations of All Souls’ Day. I’ll talk about that a bit more later.

Rather than a sombre day, with mourners dressed in black, Day of Dead is a colourful celebration to honour the dead and the lives they lived. Revellers wear skull masks or festive makeup and sing and dance to perform for their loved ones’ souls.

Families will commonly build altars in their homes, filled with offerings called 'ofrendas' for deceased relatives. The altars usually include candles, photos, personal items, and their loved one’s favourite foods, and brightly coloured flowers.

It is believed that these offerings encourage visits from departed souls to join the celebrations, guided by the sound of the prayers, the smell of the food, and familiar items for their visit. It is also common for families to bring picnics to the gravesites of deceased relatives as similar offerings.

Day of Dead is a colourful celebration of music and dance, to performe for loved ones’ souls.
Day of Dead is a colourful celebration of music and dance, to performe for loved ones’ souls.

All Souls Day and All Saints Day

For Christians, particularly Catholics, November 2 marks All Souls Day. Also known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, or the Feast of All Souls, it’s a day of prayer and remembrance of those who have died.

Contrary to the colourful and celebratory traditions of Day of the Dead, All Souls Day is a solemn event to reflect on the lives of those no longer with us and to honour their memory. During All Souls Day, Christians pray that the deceased's souls will enter heaven, while making peace with their passing.

Christians can attend a special mass on An All Souls Day, which usually features hymns, music and prayers. Often, the congregation is invited to write the names of deceased relatives into a Book of the Dead.

All Souls Day immediately follows the Christian observance of All Saints’ Day, on November 1. All Saints Day is an opportunity to remember those considered to be saints and martyrs who have died.

Rather than death being a sombre reminder of the person no longer with us, these rituals, events and commemorations of the dead can be wonderful reminders of loved ones no longer with us.

Celebrating the life and legacy of the departed - whether through prayer, dancing, food, or visiting their final resting place - can help those left behind to honour the deceased’s memory long after they have left this mortal coil.

For more ideas on ways to celebrate a deceased loved one, read our articles 5 ways to stay connected after a loved one has died, and 11 ways to honour a loved one on their death anniversary. To prepare for Christmas with a beloved family member or friend no longer with us, read our 12 Days of Christmas Grief guide.To learn more about planning a celebration of life that reflects your loved one, or to plan ahead for your own farewell, visit or give us a call on 1800 202 901.