Halloween around the world
The word 'Halloween' originates from the evening before All Saints' Day, called 'All Hallows Eve'. It is not entirely clear who first celebrated it, with some historians attributing it to Celtic origin, others a Christian one. However, many agree on the fact that it was a popular custom in Catholic Ireland. The dire conditions in their homeland forced many Irish to look for new ways to feed their families. One of the solutions they found was leaving their home behind to embrace the American Dream, bringing many traditions with them that became part of American culture.
The first stop on our spooky journey is Ireland. The tradition of Samhaim (Sam=summer, Fuin=end, i.e. "end of summer") celebrates the last harvest. People said goodbye to summer by lighting a big fire and throwing animal bones in it. The flames of this large fire were used by the families to light their own fireplace, a way to strengthen the community. The Celts believed that on this day the dead came to earth to visit their relatives. Instead of being afraid of them, the locals welcomed them with delicious food to drive away evil spirits.
Today, Ireland is reviving many of its old traditions. In County Meath, which claims to be the origin of the celebration, Halloween is celebrated for almost a whole month as part of the Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival. Londonderry in Northern Ireland, with its largest Halloween festival in Europe, is also worth a visit at the spookiest time of the year.
The longest lasting Halloween tradition in England is Nut Crack Night. Here couples throw nuts into the fire. If they burst and make a loud bang, the couple can expect a rosy future.
The Day of the Dead is probably the best known Halloween custom and one of the most important Mexican holidays. Similarly to Ireland, Mexican people believed that the dead came to visit their loved ones. Instead of mourning, the living join the dead in celebrating a cheerful winter reunion with delicious food, music and dancing. Some of the most iconic treats you can eat are the Calavera de Azúcar, skulls made of sugar and the "Pan de Muerto", a sweet bread with anise seeds decorated with bones made of dough. The big highlight of Dia de Muertos are the colorfully-decorated streets and the breathtaking costumes.
In Korea Halloween is celebrated with a three-day pumpkin festival during which the ancestors are celebrated by hosting a Thanksgiving feast. The more famous trick-or-treating is not part of the celebrations.
The land of Count Dracula does not disappoint on Halloween! Many spooky fans associate the word alone with Transylvania, the place where Castelul Bran (Bran Castle) is located, known to many as Dracula's castle. The figure of Count Dracula was inspired by the legend of Prince Vlad III Draculea, who supposedly impaled his enemies with wooden stakes.
This tongue twister does not only sound like the curse of an evil witch, but is also a Phillipino tradition that takes place on October 31st or November 1st. Groups of people representing the souls trapped in purgatory go from door to door singing, asking for alms and prayers meant to help the dead ascend to heaven.
The Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival. In the seventh month of the lunar calendar the spirits of the deceased roam this world. The burning of paper money and paper-shaped items such as jewelry, cars and other material things is said to appease the deceased, whose material needs are taken care of even after death.
Honoring the deceased has a very special role in Hinduism. In fact, the loved ones make sure that the deceased leave the material world with dignity. A 16-day ritual known as the Shadda is performed to make sure that the passage is completed successfully. Usually the eldest son of the deceased or another male relative performs this ritual, during which the deceased is honored with food offerings.
The USA are the country whose Halloween traditions are the most widely known. In the US houses are spookily decorated with spiderwebs and the obligatory pumpkin at the front of the house or in a window. The tradition is particularly popular with children, who go out in the evening and parade from house to house in the hope of getting sweets (treats). If the owner of the house refuses to give out sweets, kids prank him as an innocent revenge.
The Nepalese Halloween is called Gai Jatra or the Cow Festival, which takes place over six days in June. On this day the locals remember those who have passed away. Cows are paraded through a Kathmandu, as locals believe that a cow will help the deceased travel to heaven. Locals wear different costumes, each reflecting the mythical figures of the city.
For horror phobics and spook haters, this Austrian Halloween tradition might be a welcome change from the ghoulish customs around the world. That's because instead of creepy disguises and trips to old, spooky castles, there's the tradition of "Striezelpaschen" in Austria's wine district. Every year on the 31st of October people compete for the Allerheiligenstriezel, a sweet yeast plait.