This Monday we celebrate Halloween, also known as All Saints’ Day and All Hallows’ Eve. Traditionally a holy day reserved for a feast to dedicated to all Christian saints, or a day to celebrate the fall harvest, today it has come to have a much spookier and secular tone.
To those of us in America and many other English-speaking parts of the West, our celebrations tend to share a lot of the same festivities: dressing up in costume, carving jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treating, and so on. But not all Halloweens are made alike, and different parts of the world have their own unique take on the holiday. Let’s take a trip around the world and see some of the more unique Halloween celebrations!
Much of our current Halloween traditions began in Ireland nearly a thousand years ago, so it only makes sense to start our tour here. Halloween was originally a pagan festival known as “Samhain,” (and pronounced “sow-wen”) which means “the end of summer.”
Halloween traditions in Ireland include bonfires, jack-o-lanterns (originally carved from turnips rather than pumpkins), and a traditional dinner of colcannon, a dish made from cabbage, onion, and boiled potatoes.
Halloween is a fairly newer celebration in Germany, in part due to the influence of American films and television featuring the holiday. While trick or treating is rare, Halloween parties are very trendy and decorating with pumpkins is common.
Additionally, parts of Germany celebrate Martinstag in early November. Children make paper lanterns and parade through the streets at night, culminating with a bonfire.
In Spain, October 31st is known as the Dia de las Brujas, or “Day of the Withces.” A popular drink known as quemada is prepared, made with coffee, sugar, and lemon or orange rind, and then served from a pumpkin—typically after reciting a spell!
While China does not celebrate Western Halloween, it does have its own ghostly celebrations, the most famous being the Hungry Ghost Festival, a month-long event which takes place in mid August. Angry or mischievous ghosts are said to return from the afterlife during this time, and people will burn fake “ghost money” and sacrifice food to placate the hungry ghosts. People also build lanterns with their ancestors’ names on them and float them out into the water on boats; it is thought that the ghosts will follow these boats as they float safely away.
Finally, we conclude our tour with a trip to Mexico, where for two days starting on November 1st the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is celebrated. The holiday combines a genuine offering and remembrance of the deceased with a celebration of life and death.
In order to remember and honor the dead, people will create altars with photographs, food, and flowers commemorating the life and spirit of deceased loved ones. Additionally, family gatherings at cemeteries to pray for the dead is a common tradition.
Festivals and parades are also held with bright and colorful costumes and characters present. Fanciful, hand-made sugar skulls are created and sold to children, sometimes with the names of the deceased written across the forehead so that they can be used as offerings. Dioramas known as nichos are also built featuring miniature skeletons often caught up in humorous or everyday situations, illustrating that there is still joy to be had even after death.
Do you know of any other Halloween celebrations around the world that you think we should know about? Tell us below in the comments!