Halloween Traditions Around the World
Every year in America, there comes a day in which ghouls, goblins, and a host of other supernatural creatures take to the streets in search of…candy. That’s right – it’s Halloween. On October 31st, people all across the nation dress up in their favorite outfits, go trick-or-treating, carve pumpkins, or attend themed Halloween parties. It is known as one of America’s biggest and most beloved holidays, in which everyone from young children to the elderly can participate. Despite what many see as a long-standing American tradition, Halloween was actually not celebrated in the United States until the 19th century, when an influx of Scottish and Irish immigrants brought their traditions and influenced American culture moving forward.
Although many countries around the world celebrate the holiday in some way, some Americans might be surprised to see that other countries do not dress up and go out as we do. In fact, what is a fun holiday here in the states is actually used, in many countries, to honor and pay homage to the dead.
Halloween Traditions Internationally
Spain and Mexico
In Spain and Mexico, the time around Halloween is used to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, which translates to “Day of the Dead.” This year, Dia de los Muertos will begin on October 31st and will end on November 2nd. National Geographic notes that, although the celebrations are somewhat related and are around the same time period, Dia de los Muertos is not the Mexican version of Halloween. While Halloween is of a spookier tone, focusing on haunts and frights, Dia de los Muertos is formulated around love and respect for the dead.
Celebrants generally set up exquisitely designed private alters, on which they place ofrendasUNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage (offerings) for the dead. These offerings may include candles, sugar skulls, photographs, and plates with food. These colorful alters and offerings are meant to provide for the spirits that come back to visit their loved ones. Some people dress up as their ancestors, and many go to cemeteries to drink, eat, and celebrate the lives of those they have lost. In 2008, Dia de los Muertos was added to the .
Scotland and Ireland
Halloween in the United States did not become a popularized holiday until after more Scottish and Irish immigrants began entering the country. It is believed that Halloween as we now know it in the United States is founded off of Samhain, a Celtic holiday that is still celebrated in various parts of the United Kingdom. Samhain has been celebrated for over 2,000 years, and revolves around the Celtic conception of the new year. In the past, the harvest season ended on November 1st, so the new year would begin around then. Thus, October 31st marks New Years Eve for the Celts.
It was believed that ghosts and spirits would return to the Earth on October 31st. To avoid being mistaken for ghosts, Celtic individuals would wear masks on October 31st, marking that they were “of this world.” In modern times, that has been translated to dressing up in various costumes. Outside of their doors, Celts would leave offerings for the ghosts and spirits, specifically food and drink, to keep them from entering their homes. Does this sound familiar? Nowadays, many people provide candy to, or leave bowls of candy out for, trick-or-treaters in the United States. Dressing up, trick-or-treating, and attending parties is often seen in Ireland nowadays as well. However, the celebration of Samhain for the Celts also often included bonfires, palm reading and predictions for the future, and even sacrifices (human and animal) – something we (luckily) don’t see much of now.
The Voodoo religion plays a big part in Haitian culture. Although the media has created a culture of fear or mistrust around Voodoo, the religion itself focuses on spirituality, community, responsibility, and empowerment. Voodoo practicers often revere death, and try to connect to the afterlife through music, dance, spiritual possessions, and offerings to ancestors. Fed Gede, known as the “Festival of the Ancestors,” is celebrated in Haiti, Louisiana, and other communities with a big Haitian presence throughout the globe. The holiday is meant to celebrate and connect with ancestors, thanking them for their help and guidance, and asking for them to stay close to the family throughout the remainder of their lives. Celebrants light candles, set up alters, and even take communal trips to the burial sites of their ancestors. A traditional drink that is imbibed during Fed Gede is chili-infused rum.
The Italian version of All Souls’ Day, called “Tutti i Morti,” is a religious holiday in which people commemorate and honor their deceased loved ones. However, the Italians do share one similarity of their celebration with Americans – the carving of pumpkins. This practice is particularly common on the island of Sardinia. The pumpkins are seen as “Concas de Mortu,” which roughly translates into “heads of the dead.”
In the Philippines, the holiday is also called All Souls’ Day. The celebration takes place on November 1st and children often have their own version of trick-or-treating. While American children go door-to-door and say, “Trick or treat,” children in the Philippines take part in “Pangangaluluwâ,” in which they go door-to-door looking for treats. But rather than ask for their treats, they sing songs in exchange for them.
Starting on the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, the Hungry Ghost Festivals begins. This is celebrated for the entirety of one month throughout the country. Activities and festivities for the Hungry Ghost Festival include providing food for the spirits, burning incense, operas, and parades.
Gai Jatra, the Nepali celebration of the dead, is celebrated at some point between August and September, a distinct difference from Halloween in America. Gai Jatra, which translates to “Festival of the Cows,” is an important tradition to help the deceased to find their way to heaven. All families who have had a relative pass away during that year join a procession through the city of Kathmandu. They must lead a cow, which is a believed to help lead the deceased. If no cow is available for the family, they may dress up a young male as a cow and lead him instead.
Rather than celebrate Halloween, Cambodians celebrate Pchum Ben, a religious festival which lasts for 15 days. The festival is meant to pay respects to the ancestors of Cambodian families. Some of the festivities include lighting candles and sharing food as a family. However, Cambodians have two special and unique traditions during the course of Pchum Ben. The first includes racing buffalos. But at some point before the last day of Pchum Ben, monks spend an entire night chanting; this signifies the gates of Hell opening up. To try and ensure that their deceased loved ones do not end up in purgatory, Cambodians offer up food, flowers, and other items that may help them escape.