Halloween Traditions and Celebrations Around the World
Reading Length: 11:06 minutes
Halloween celebrations around the world are the biggest and most anticipated by all Halloween fanatics.
Interestingly, the mystery of how the word Halloween came to life remains unanswered to many people even today. In the annals of world history, the term Halloween comes from the old English celebration called ‘All Hallow Even.’ The word “Hallow” is the old English word for Holy while “Even” is the old word for evening. Thus in the present time, All Hallow Even became Halloween.
Amongst all holidays being celebrated in the world, it is only during Halloween where everyone gets dressed up as spirits or ghosts. Why do you think this is? Well, the answer is simple. Dressing up as spirits and ghosts became a part of the Halloween celebration because people in the past believed that wearing scary costumes would scare away the evil spirits and keep them away. Just like Jack-o’-lantern or the pumpkin we like to carve every Halloween. People carve the pumpkin and keep it outside their homes to ward off the evil spirits.
From Ireland to Haiti, countries across the globe have their own festivals celebrating the afterlife, and the practices vary wildly from nation to nation.
While trick-or-treating and dressing up as ghosts are common practices in countries like the US, other places have their own twists on the tradition. The Cambodians, for example, forego the trick-or-treating altogether to race buffalo.
From Sardinia to Londonderry, here are 20 Halloween celebrations around the world. Check out how people all over the world honor the afterlife.
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The Birth of Halloween: Ireland
Halloween celebrations around the world are no doubt the most-awaited by all people. But did you know where it first originated? Well, here’s a fun fact.
In Ireland, where Halloween originated, the Irish celebrate the tradition much like it is in the United States. In rural areas, bonfires are lit as they were centuries ago, and all over the country, children get dressed up in costumes and spend the evening “trick-or-treating” in their neighborhoods. After trick-or-treating, most people attend parties with neighbors and friends. At the parties, they play many games, including “snap-apple,” a game in which they tie an apple on a string to a doorframe or tree and players attempt to bite the hanging apple. Besides, bobbing for apples, parents often arrange treasure hunts, with candy or pastries as the “treasure.” The Irish also play a card game where they laid the cards face down on a table with candy or coins underneath them. When a child chooses a card, he receives whatever prize there is below it.
A traditional food eaten on Halloween is barmbrack, a kind of fruitcake that is always available for buying in stores or baked at home. A muslin-wrapped treat is baked inside the cake that, it is said, can foretell the eater’s future. Traditionally, the Irish believe that if someone found a ring, it means that the person will soon get married; a piece of straw means that a prosperous year is on its way. Children also play tricks on their neighbors, such as “knock-a-dolly,” a prank in which children knock on the doors of their neighbors, but run away before the neighbor opens their door.
Halloween celebrations in Other Countries
In the present times, Halloween celebrations around the world vary in terms of dates, ways of celebrating, and tradition. However, there are very few things which they have in common, that is, remembering the dead and honoring them. This time, ready your self as I give you the list of the different Halloween celebrations around the world.
Mexico: Día de los Muertos
Mexico and Spain are famous for Día de Los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” which is an annual celebration from October 31 to November 2.
Locals dress up as their ancestors and build private altars called “ofrendas,” which they used to present gifts—from sugar skulls to tequila–to the dead.
It differs from Halloween substantially, however, as Halloween does not focus on relatives and the afterlife alone. It also has something to do with the gruesome and supernatural in general.
Halloween revelers often take motifs from the Day of the Dead celebrations.
Hongkong: The Hungry Ghosts Festival
The Hungry Ghosts Festival (Called “Yu Lan” in Chinese) is a celebration throughout Hong Kong and China for an entire month, starting from the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar.
This year’s celebration started on August 15 and finished on September 15.
Festivities include parades, operas, burning incense, food for the dead, and operatic performances to entertain the spirits.
Scotland and Ireland: Samhain
Historians believed that Halloween first developed from the Celtic holiday Samhain; the Celtic New Year’s Eve celebrated on October 31.
Until now, parts of the UK such as Scotland, and parts of Ireland still celebrate Samhain, which involves fortune-telling and lighting bonfires.
Haiti: Fed Gede
Fed Gede, or “Festival of the Ancestors,” is a Voodoo holiday celebration of the Haitian and other Voodoo communities around the world. People take part by lighting candles, journeying to their ancestors’ burial places, and drinking rum infused with chilies.
Northern Ireland: Banks of the Foyle
In Northern Ireland, people in the present time celebrates the Banks of the Foyle. Today, the holiday inspires festivals and celebrations in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Londonderry is home to Europe’s largest Halloween carnival — Banks of the Foyle — which offers everything from a grand parade to an interactive haunted house experience.
South Korea: Chuseok
Chuseok — a harvest festival and three-day holiday — is a Korean celebration of Halloween on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. It is a celebration of thanksgiving, where South Koreans visit their hometowns and share a traditional feast to pay respects to their ancestors.
Did you know that Americans do not celebrate Halloween in the United States until the 19th century? Yes, you read it right. Halloween came to popularity in the USA, after immigrants from Scotland and Ireland arrived in the country. Halloween in America involves plenty of trick-or-treating, spooky costumes, and pumpkin carving.
Italy: Tutti i Morti
All Souls Day is a religious affair in Italy where people remember their late loved ones. However, people on the island of Sardinia also celebrate Halloween for centuries by carving pumpkins. The locals call them “Concas de Mortu,” which means “heads of the dead.”
Nepal: Gai Jatra
Also known as the “Festival of Cows,” Gai Jatra takes place between August and September. Gai Jatra involves commemorating loved ones who have died that year. Families who have lost a relative must join a procession through Kathmandu leading a cow (or if none is available, a young boy dressed as one). Considered being a Holy animal, the Nepalese believe the cow will help the deceased on their journey to heaven.
Trick-or-treating is common in the Philippines, but the country’s traditional celebration usually takes place on All Souls’ Day on November 1. Children take part in “Pangangaluluwâ,” and go door-to-door singing songs for sweets.
However, in the present time, Filipinos celebrate Halloween similar to the USA and other Western countries. This includes trick or treating and Halloween-costume contests. Some ESL schools in the Philippines also organize Halloween parties for ESL students to enjoy and have fun.
Zaduszki — the Polish word for All Souls’ Day — is a Polish Halloween celebration every November 1. All families place lanterns, wreaths, and small gifts on the graves of their relatives in a solemn celebration.
Obon in Japan is a Buddhist festival that lasts three days, and its start date varies from mid-July to mid-August. It honors the spirits of the locals’ ancestors with pilgrimages to graves. This also involves going to places associated with a family’s history. Obon includes several ceremonial dances as part of the festivities.
Cambodia: Pchum Ben
Pchum Ben is a 15-day-long religious festival paying respects to Cambodians’ ancestors. This type of early Halloween celebration culminates every 2nd of October.
People celebrate by lighting candles for their ancestors, feasting with their families, and taking part in buffalo races. Before the last day, monks chant through the night to signal the opening of the gates of Hell.
Romania: Day of Dracula
People from all around the world flock to celebrate Halloween at Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes’s purported home at Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania. Although it was never actually his castle, people still visit the castle for rumors that says he has been on the castle. There are several guides and inclusive travel packages in Romania that offer tours and parties at Count Dracula’s castle for Halloween.
India: Pitru Paksha
For 16 days during the second Paksha of the Hindu lunar month of Bhadrapada, many people in India celebrate Pitru Paksha. In the Hindu religion, Hindus believed that when a person dies, Yama—the Hindu god of death—takes his or her soul to purgatory, where they’ll find their last three generations of a family. During Pitru Paksha, the souls can have the chance to return to Earth and be with their families.
To ensure their family’s place in the afterlife, one must perform the ritual of Shraddha, which includes a fire ritual. If Shraddha isn’t performed, the soul will wander the Earth for eternity. During Pitru Paksha, families offer dead food such as kheer (sweet rice and milk) and lapsi (a sweet porridge). They also prepare rice, lentils, spring beans, and pumpkins cooked in silver or copper pots and served on banana leaves.
Poland: Dzień Zaduszny
In early November, people across Poland travel to cemeteries to visit the graves of their family members (Dzień Zaduszny is like the equivalent of All Souls’ Day for Catholics in the country). The holiday is an important celebration with candles, flowers, and an offering of prayers for departed relatives. On the second day, people attend a requiem mass for the souls of the dead.
Nigeria: Awuru Odo Festival
The Awuru Odo Festival marks the return of dearly departed friends and family members back to the living. Lasting up to six months, the holiday includes feasts, music, and masks before the dead return to the spirit world. Although the Odo Festival is an important ritual, it happens once every two years, when the spirits return to Earth.
All Saints’ Day, November 1, is a national holiday in Italy. The Ognissanti usually begins several days before, when people leave fresh flowers on the graves of departed loved ones. Moreover, complete strangers, turning the country’s cemeteries into a beautiful display of colors. Italians also pay tribute to the departed by putting a red candle in the window at sunset and set a place at the table for those spirits they hope will pay a visit.
China: Teng Chieh
Teng Chieh is a popular Halloween festival in China. During Teng Chieh, the Chinese placed food and water in front of photographs of family members who have departed while bonfires and lanterns are lit to light the paths of the spirits as they travel the earth on Halloween night. Worshippers in Buddhist temples fashion “boats of the law” from paper, which they throw into the fire in the evening hours.
The purpose of this custom is twofold: as a remembrance of the dead and to free the spirits of the “pretas” in order that they might ascend to heaven. “Pretas” are the spirits of those who died because of an accident or drowning. The Chinese think the presence of “pretas” among the living to be dangerous. Under the guidance of Buddhist temples, they form societies to carry out ceremonies for the “pretas,” which includes the lighting of lanterns.
UK: Guy Fawkes Day
On the evening of November 5, bonfires are lit throughout England. They burn the effigies and light off the sky with fireworks. Although it falls around the same time and has some similar traditions, this celebration has little to do with Halloween or the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The English, for the most part, stopped celebrating Halloween as Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation spread. It was on Halloween in 1517 that Martin Luther tried to reform the Catholic Church. It ended in the formation of the Protestant Church, which didn’t believe in saints. So they had no reason to celebrate the eve of All Saints’ Day. However, a new autumn ritual emerged. They designed guy Fawkes Day festivities to commemorate the execution of a notorious English traitor, Guy Fawkes.
Halloween Folk Legends
Halloween celebrations around the world are not perfect without knowing the folk legends that scare people during Halloween. Are you ready for the Halloween thrill? We bet you should because we got you the list of the legends of scare that made Halloween celebrations around the world more exciting!
Since the old days, people perceive witches as evil beings by early Christians in Europe, inspiring the iconic Halloween figure. Images of witches have appeared in various forms throughout history. Their appearance is evil, wart-nosed women huddling over a cauldron of boiling liquid to hag-faced. Witches are notorious and cackling beings riding through the sky on brooms wearing pointy hats. In pop culture, the witch is a benevolent, nose-twitching suburban housewife. They can also be awkward teenagers learning to control their powers. Or a trio of charmed sisters battling the forces of evil. The real history of witches, however, is dark and, often for the witches, deadly.
Vampires are evil mythological beings who roam the world at night searching for people whose blood they feed upon. They may be the best-known classic monsters of all. Most people associate vampires with Count Dracula, the legendary, blood-sucking subject of Bram Stoker’s epic novel, Dracula, circa 1897. But the history of vampires began long before Stoker was born.
The werewolf is a mythological animal and the subject of many stories throughout the world—and more than a few nightmares. Werewolves are, according to some legends, people who morph into vicious, powerful wolves. Others are a mutant combination of human and wolf. But all are bloodthirsty beasts who cannot control their lust for killing people and animals.
The zombie, often portrayed as an undead, flesh-eating, decaying corpse, has enjoyed a popularity surge in recent years. Whether they’re devouring their prey in The Walking Dead or getting their groove on in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, zombies dominate pop culture. But are zombies real? Unlike many other monsters—which are mostly a product of superstition, religion, and fear—zombies have a basis in fact, and they have reported several verified cases of zombies from Haitian voodoo culture.
A mummy is a person or animal whose body has been dried or otherwise preserved after death. When people think of a mummy, they often envision the early Hollywood-era versions of human forms wrapped in layers upon layers of bandages, arms outstretched as they slowly shuffle forward. Mummies may not literally rise from their ancient tombs and attack, but they’re real and have a fascinating history.
Clowns are tricksters and represent one of the oldest and most pervasive archetypes in the world. They can be both funny and scary, cheerful, or creepy, and they often make it difficult for others to tell whether they’re lying. In the 1970s and early ‘80s, the American image of the clown shifted toward something more sinister with the media coverage of John Wayne Gacy, a serial murderer who had occasionally dressed as “Pogo the Clown.”
The Devil also referred to as Satan, is best known as the personification of evil and the nemesis of good people everywhere. His image and story continue to develop over the years. The Devil’s name varies in cultures: Beelzebub, Lucifer, Satan, and Mephistopheles, to name a few, with various physical descriptions including horns and hooved feet. But this malevolent being—and his legion of demons—continue to strike fear in people from all walks of life as the antithesis of all things good.
Now that you already knew the different Halloween celebrations around the world, are you excited for this year’s Halloween? Well, you need to have your costumes ready and get ready to the ‘spookiest’ event of the season.