Halloween Traditions Around the World
Halloween has a common theme throughout the world in countries that acknowledge and celebrate it, but the Halloween traditions and even meaning of the day varies from one country to the next. For some, Halloween is considered a time of frights, candy, and get togethers while for others the time is seen as a time to remember and connect with deceased loved ones.
Halloween has roots in both All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. All Saints’ Day, which is commonly also called All Hollow’s Day, is a day of celebration in the Christianity that celebrates all the saints. Its purpose is to celebrate saints that are not otherwise celebrated individually. The actual date varies within the religion, with the Roman Catholic church and many Protestant churches celebrating it on November 1st.
All Soul’s Day, also commonly called the Day of the Dead, is the following day on November 2nd. All Souls’ Day is a day to remember, celebrate, and offer prayers for the dead. It is most commonly celebrated by Western Christianity. This day is often celebrated with visits to the cemeteries, special offerings, and special meals.
Many countries around the world continue to celebrate All Souls’ Day, while others are more associated with Halloween as it is seen in the United States and Ireland. Read on to learn about how these 12 countries celebrate Halloween:
Mexico- Día de los Muertos
In Mexico, Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, takes place on November 2nd and is marked by two well known associated symbols: calacas (skeletons) and calaveras (skulls). The celebration begins on October 31st and extends over three days. The celebration takes places as a way to celebrate the dead, who are believed to return to their earthly homes on November 2nd.
It is said that on the evening of October 31st the gates of Heaven open up and the souls of children are allowed to return and visit with family for 24 hours. The next day, November 2nd, the souls of adults are released and allowed to visit with family for 24 hours. These beliefs are the basis for celebration in Mexico and are focused on remembering and celebrating loved ones rather than candy and costumes.
- Many build alters in their homes to honor their relatives
- Candles and Incense are burned to help the deceased find their way home
- Graves are cleaned up and decorations placed
- On November 2nd, picnics are held at the grave sites
- People are seen wearing skull masks and a common treat is sugar candy molded into the shape of skulls
- Other treats and dishes associated with Día de los Muertos are spicy dark chocolate and atole, a corn-based liquor
United States- Halloween
In the United States, Halloween is a day of treats, apple bobbing, costumes, and trick or treating. Halloween in the United States stems from the traditions of Halloween in Ireland, being brought over to North America in the 1800’s. The early American colonists began to hold small, private Halloween parties known as “play parties”, dress up in costumes, tell scary stories, and go to neighbors asking for food or money.
In the United States, connections with All Saint’s Day and All Souls Day have practically disappeared and Halloween traditions have transformed into what it is today, with secular themed events taking place focusing on lots and lots of candy and spooky costumes.
- Trick or treating
- Parties with family and friends
- Pumpkin Carving
- Haunted Houses
England-Guy Fawkes Day
Guy Fawkes Day is a celebration takes place on November 5th to commemorate the execution of a notorious English traitor, Guy Fawkes. Guy Fawkes was involved in a plot to carry out an attack on the Houses of Parliament in 1605 because of the refusal of King James I to grant religious tolerance to Catholics. The celebrations often include bonfires and fireworks.
More recently, Halloween events that resemble those of Ireland and the United States have become more popular in England. These include costumes, trick or treating, bobbing for apples, and Halloween parties.
- Traditionally children will walk the streets carrying an effigy or “guy” and ask for a penny (similar to trick or treating)
- Fireworks Displays
- Guides perform an annual search of Parliament for arsons in a more ceremonial format than serious
- Halloween Parties
Ireland- (The Origin Place of Halloween)
Ireland is considered the birth place of Halloween as many know it today. It’s roots stem from ancient Celtic and Pagan rituals and a festival called Samhain. In the Celtic World, Samhain was the time between the end of summer and start of winter, characterized with long, cold nights. This was a time of many unfortunate deaths. It was also believed that during this time spirits would cross back over and fires were lit to ward off evil spirits.
Samhain originally occurred in early November, but the date was changed to the current date of October 31st when November 1st as All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day in the 8th century. The celebrations would take place on All Hollow’s Eve, which would later become known as Halloween. Festivities continue in Ireland today and include many of the festivities commonly associated with Halloween.
- Costumes and trick or treating
- “Snap-Apple”-a game in which apples are tied to a door frame or tree and guests attempt to bite the hanging apple (similar to the bobbing for apples tradition)
- Treasure Hunts
- A traditional card game during which cards are laid face down on a table with candy or coins underneath them. The child chooses a card and receives that treat.
- Barnbrack-a traditional Halloween snack in Ireland. A fruitcake in which a treat is wrapped. If a ring is found that person is said to have a wedding in the near future or a straw is said indicate a prosperous year coming up.
- Children often play tricks on neighbors, such as “knock-a-dolly,” where they knock on doors and run away.
India- Pitri Paksha
Pitri Paksha is a 16 day lunar period in the Hindu calendar during which Hindus remember and celebrate Pitrs and other ancestors who have passed on. The cycle generally occurs in early fall. During the cycle food is offered to dogs, cows, and crows. This food is believed to reach ancestors and make them happy in their realm. Another tradition associated with Pitri Paksha is avoiding non-vegetarian food during the cycle to avoid pitru dosh, or a curse from the ancestors.
In recent years the traditional Halloween festivities seen in the United States and Ireland are becoming more common and more popular in India, including costumes, candy, Halloween candy, and scary ghost stories.
- Food offerings to various animals that is believed to reach the spirits of ancestors
- Donating clothes and food to the needy to make the ancestors happy
- More recently Halloween festivities include things such as costumes and parities.
Japan- The Kawasaki Halloween Parade & The O-bon Festival
The O-Bon Festival takes place in Japan during the summer months (July & August-select dates depending on the region) with the purpose of commemorating deceased ancestors. The festival has roots going back 500 years when a disciple of Buddha was said to have used his powers to see the spirit of his deceased mother.
When communicating he discovered that she had fallen into the realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering. He was advised by Buddha to make offerings to the Buddhist Monks, which he did, and on the 15th day of the seventh month his mother was released from the realm.
Japan also enjoys some of the more tradition aspects of Halloween as it is known today, with costumes and parties in October as well as the famous Kawasaki Halloween Parade. The parade is a 1.5km parade through Tokyo, featuring spooky, silly, colorful, and unique costumes.
- Paper Lanterns are lit to guide the way of the ancestors
- Obon dances are performed
- Food alters and offerings at grave sites
- Cemetery visits
- Costumes and parties
The Philippines- Pangangaluluwa
Pangangaluluwa is a tradition in the Philippines during which people go door to door on the night of All Saints’ Day (November 1st) asking for alms and prayers in exchange for singing, and sometimes some small gifts. The festivities occur over three days, beginning on the evening of October 31st. The last two days are associated with visits to the cemetery to honor relatives who have passed.
- Visiting grave sites on November 1st and 2nd
- Decorating of grave sites
- Food offerings for the dead at grave sites or their home
- Pangangaluluwa (similar to trick or treating)
- Candle Lightings
France- la fête d’Halloween
Halloween celebrations are fairly new, dating back as recently as 1982. Halloween was traditionally seen as an “American” holiday in France and not celebrated. In 1982, the American Dream bar/restaurant in Paris began celebrating Halloween and it has quickly spread throughout the country. This aspect of how France now celebrates Halloween is similar to Irish and American traditions.
The French also continue to celebrate La Toussaint, or All Saint’s Day, on November 1st. This is a day to remember, honor, and celebrate relatives that have passed with flowers (commonly chrysanthemum) and a special family meal.
- Special Halloween pastries and treats
- Pumpkin patches and Jack ‘O’ Lanterns
- Visiting grave sites on November 1st to pay respects
The Yue Lan Festival, or Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, takes place in countries throughout Asia on the 15th day of the seventh month. The festival is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival that focuses on the dead visiting the living. It is believed that on the 15th day the realms of Heaven and Hell are open and Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to end the suffering of the deceased.
Traditionally, the ghosts associated with this day were discontented and vengeful ghosts that return to Earth looking for something to satisfy their hunger for peace. The purpose of the festival is to prevent these ghosts from inflicting harm onto the living.
- Food Offerings
- Burning Incense and Joss Paper
- Elaborate meals with empty seats for the deceased
- Entertainment, including Chinese Opera
Halloween traditions in Canada resemble those of the United States and Ireland. The traditions have roots in the Celtic celebration and is believed to have been brought to Canada in the 1800’s from Irish and Scottish immigrants.
The tradition of dressing up in costumes began in the late 1890’s, trick or treating in the late 1920’s, and the holiday picked up the attention of adults in the 1990’s.
- Decorated housing
- Trick or Treating
- Horror Films
- Special Dishes: toffee apples made by coating real apples with a boiled sugar solution, roasted corn, popcorn and pumpkin pie or bread, and Halloween beer
- Pumpkin Carving Contests
Haiti- Fed Gede
Fed Gede, or the festival of the Sacred Dead, is the Haitian celebration of the Day of the Dead that lasts throughout November. Papa Gede is believed to stand at the crossroads of life and death, but is said to have a very crude sense of humor and ability to read people’s minds. He is seen as the patron of death, but also believed to be protective of his people. It is believed that he will not take a life before its time, so people pray to him in near death situations. Rituals and festivities are held in honor of the dead and with the intention of attracting the lwa, or spirits, of loved ones.
- Grave visits with rituals
- Veves-ground drawings made to attract the Gede
- Food and Drink Offerings
- Sacred dances and polyrhythmic drumming
Italy- Tutti i Morti
Italy celebrates All Soul’s Day, which takes place on November 2nd. All Soul’s Day is focused on remembering and celebrating the lives of relatives who have passed with visits to grave sites and food offerings for the dead.
There are many traditions that take place on All Soul’s Day throughout Italy as well as some region specific traditions. In Cremona in Lombardy people are known to get up early and make the bed so that loved ones returning for the day could get some rest.
In several regions people will leave lanterns and fires burning overnight. In Sicily, it is common for children to find treats and gifts hid around the house on the morning of November 2nd, said to be left by loved ones who had returned. In Sardinia children will go from house to house collecting cakes, nuts and dried fruit and will in return offer prayers for the deceased.
- Cleaning and decorating of grave sites
- Visiting grave sites on November 2nd
- Setting an extra table setting or tray of food for the dead who are believed to return for the day
- Dolci dei morti, or sweets of the dead, are biscuits that are commonly baked in the shape of bones
- Fave dei morti-beans of the dead, or ground almond cakes in the shape of a bean
- Stuffed bread seasoned with chili- a traditional dish that is believed to allow whoever ate it to take on the burning punishment on behalf of souls suffering in purgatory
Looking for some spooky destinations to visit?