Halloween, Hallowe’en, All Hallows Eve, Hallowtide…
Halloween is one of the world’s oldest and most widely celebrated holidays. Historians believe that Halloween began with Irish and Scottish Gaelic festivals that had roots in Paganism. Christians then took those Gaelic ideas and morphed them into All Hallows Eve.
While the North American version of the holiday is certainly the most publicized, most countries that celebrate Halloween don’t do it in the same way. Religious customs and traditions usually dictate how seriously and in-depth the celebrations are performed. Yet, the common thread between all the traditions is they are an ode to the dead and departed.
Here are five countries with their own unique takes on Halloween:
Ireland – Where Halloween as we know it began. Dating back over 2000 years, the Gaelic festival of Samhain marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. According to Irish mythology, Samhain is a time when the doorway to the “other world” opens and allows the souls of the dead to enter the world of the living.
During these celebrations, children and the poor would go from door to door asking for food. In return, they would sing songs and offer prayers for the deceased. An early version of trick-or-treating if you will.
Today, the Irish celebrate the modern version of Halloween – pranks, feasting, dressing up, and trick-or-treating. According to a 2015 USA Today poll, the Irish city of Derry is a top 10 Halloween destination, due to their elaborate festival every year.
Mexico – The October 31 westernized version of Halloween is in fact celebrated in Mexico. However, it is often overshadowed by the more widely known Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos).
Day of the Dead takes place from October 31 to November 2 and includes All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. A festival with Aztec roots, it is a commemoration of deceased loved ones. Those who partake create beautiful altars decorated with the favorite food and beverages of the departed. Additionally, they will hold all night vigils in the cemeteries of their loved ones, bake pan de muerto (bread of the dead), and make miniature skulls made from sugar.
China – Halloween is, for the most part, a non-event in China. However, Buddhist and Taoist practicing Chinese people celebrate the Festival of Hungry Ghosts in concurrence.
In this culture, the seventh month of the lunar calendar is “Ghost Month”, and the fifteenth day of that month is “Ghost Day”. During this time it is believed that the souls of the departed are free to roam the world of the living. Taoists and Buddhists perform rituals believed to appease the suffering and appetites of the visiting deceased. Additionally, lanterns are often lit and released on water to guide lost spirits.
Germany – Halloween in Germany is generally celebrated in the same fashion as in the West. They trick-or-treat, hold costume parties, etc. However, what sets them apart is their tradition to hide all knives on Halloween night. By stashing their sharp objects, the Germans hope that wandering spirits won’t be struck and hurt by them as they wander through the night.
Japan – The Japanese celebrate Halloween as a three-day Buddhist festival dedicated to the dead known as OBon. OBon, means “to hang upside down” and implies great suffering.
During the first day of Obon, people bring food and lanterns to the gravesites of their relatives. On the second day, they offer up vegetarian dishes. And on the final day, the Japanese will gather and dance the Bon-Odori while setting lanterns out on water.