The history of Halloween is just as spooky as you’d expect - All Hallow’s Eve originally paid homage to deceased spirits thought to be causing mischief on the last night of October.
Today, these ancient “haunted” connotations have transformed into trick or treating, pumpkin carving and creepy costumes.
There’s much more to Halloween around the world than a few pumpkins and trick or treating, though. To help you navigate the world’s greatest Halloween celebrations, our experts have put together this list of incredible Halloween traditions around the world.
1) Día de los Muertos, Mexico
Mexico’s Día de los Muertos – or Day of the Dead – is often thought of as the largest Halloween celebration outside of the United States. Conversely, it’s actually a complete antidote to the horrors of traditional spooky Halloween. Instead of being filled with horror, Día de los Muertos is in fact two days of uplifting celebrations dedicated to showing love and respect to deceased family members. A UNESCO-recognised celebration, Día de los Muertos sees locals up and down the country don traditional make-up, enjoy parades and make offerings to lost loved ones.
2) The Hungry Ghost Festival, China
Falling on the seventh day of the lunar calendar, China’s Hungry Ghost Festival is the country’s very own homage to the dead. Locals believe the seventh day of the lunar calendar (usually in August or September) sees restless Chinese spirits come out of hiding. To appease the ghosts and satisfy their own ancestors, locals make offerings of food both inside their homes and along the streets.
To make sure the spirits are as occupied as possible, a number of performances – including Chinese operas recounting stories of gods and goddesses – also take place during this auspicious time. This festival’s origins are similar to those of Halloween, but it also offers a wonderful opportunity for travellers to get an insight into the ancient Chinese practice of ancestor worship.
3) Samhain, Scotland and Ireland
Samhain, or Celtic New Year’s Eve, is thought to be where modern-day Halloween originates from. 2,000 years ago, Celts celebrated New Year’s Eve on the 31st October, which has become today’s Halloween. Traditionally marking the end of the summer and the beginning of the ‘darker’ half of the year, Samhain is eerily associated with human death.
Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became increasingly blurred. Ghosts were thought to be roaming the Earth on this fateful day, and to appease the spirits Celts gathered around sprawling bonfires, where they burned crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. Whilst sacrificing crops and animals is a thing of the past, this spooky festival is still celebrated in parts of Scotland and Ireland. Today, the festivities include fortune-telling and lighting bonfires.
4) Chuseok, South Korea
Celebrated from the end of September to the beginning of October, South Korea’s Chuseok is a harvest festival dedicated to foregone ancestors. Throughout the festival, Koreans return to their ancestral family homes to thank their ancestors for a plentiful harvest. The morning celebrations are filled with memorial services, which involve families offering mooncakes, alcohol and freshly harvested rice to their ancestors.
After the offerings, families gather together to visit ancestral graves and show their appreciation and respect for deceased family members. To lighten the mood, Koreans then engage in various traditional folk games and dances, and finish the festivities by indulging in local food. Although not a traditional Halloween festival, Chuseok’s celebrations of the dead adds an eerie undertone to the festivities.
5) All Souls Day, Italy
Paying homage to the dead doesn’t stop in the Far East. Across Europe, All Souls Day involves those who live on the continent remembering their lost loved ones on November 2nd. The affair starts off soberly, with a Mass dedicating prayers and alms to the dead followed by familial visits to ancestral graveyards.
However, paying homage to ancestors is not a completely sober affair. In Sicily, All Souls Day is actually an opportunity for children to bond with relatives not yet forgotten. The ‘mourti’ – or dead – are thought to leave out presents of toys and sweets, so the day begins with children searching for the treasures hidden around the house. Fun and meaningful for all the family, All Souls Day is far less spooky than a traditional Halloween.
6) Kawasaki Halloween Parade, Japan
The largest Halloween parade across the globe, Japan’s Kawasaki Halloween Parade sees around 2,500 people dressing up in costume and an astonishing 120,000 people turning out to watch. Taking place in one of Tokyo’s suburbs, the parade draws participants from across the capital. Outfits range from inflatable mobile phones to giant chanel bags, giving this Halloween parade a distinctively Japanese feel. The overall standard of costumes is scarily high, but it’s a fun day out whether you’re participating or simply watching from the sidelines.
Discover Halloween around the world
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