Halloween is known for trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, and dressing up in costumes. But this is only the case in the highly commercialized United States. What about in other countries? Is it even celebrated at all?
The origin of Halloween dates back to pre-Christian periods, as is the case with most Western holidays. Its roots lie in Ireland, however, the modern Halloween that we know today, really is an American holiday. The ghostly themes, trick-or-treating, and costumes weren’t really prevalent until the late 1990s. And as such, “our” Halloween doesn’t look too different than those overseas.
That said, similar holidays around the same time, such as All Saint’s Day, Day of the Dead, and All Souls Day, are popular in other countries and have unique celebrations. These celebrations are especially noted in countries with high Eastern Orthodox and Catholic populations.
As the origin of All Hallow’s Eve, it isn’t too shocking that Ireland has a whole slew of festivities going on every year. All the usual celebratory events (trick-or-treating, spooky costumes etc.) are still present, but there are some traditions that haven’t yet made their debut in the United States. Such traditions generally include; setting off fireworks, eating barnbrack (a type of fruitcake), parades, street fairs, and lighting bonfires, especially in big cities like Dublin and Galway.
Even though England’s Guy Fawkes Day on November 5th is around Halloween, and has some similar festivities, it doesn’t have much to do with the holiday, or its Celtic origins as the festival of Samhain. This has to do with the historical significance of the Catholic Church in England. However, today’s Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated by setting off fireworks, lighting bonfires, and burning effigies throughout the country. Children walk around carrying an effigy and ask “a penny for the guy” in some parts of England, which is the closest thing the country has to the American trick-or-treating.
Arguably Mexico’s biggest and most famous holiday, Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos), is a countrywide celebration that lasts from November 1st to November 2nd. The exact rituals and traditions vary from region to region, but throughout the country, the holiday is a day dedicated to celebrating the dead. Some festivities include creating altars (ofrendas) in honour of dead family members, visiting and decorating graves, leaving offerings of bottles of mezcal and tequila, candy skulls made from sugar, and sweet breads.
Although Halloween isn’t a particularly popular holiday for most of Italy, the small island of Sardinia has similar traditions to those found in the United States. Jack-o-lanterns are displayed by some, known as Concas de Mortu (Heads of the Dead), and children go door to door asking for sweets in place of souls that are stuck in purgatory.
Japan doesn’t have any major holidays akin to Halloween around October, be that as it may, it does have a festival with a similar theme in the summertime. The Obon Festival is a celebration that honours one’s ancestors. Red lanterns are lit, and released into oceans and rivers. Fires are also lit on each night.
In China, there are several holidays that are similar to Halloween. One such holiday is known as Qing Ming Jie (清明節) or Tomb Sweeping Day. On this day, individuals visit family members’ tombstones to clean and decorate them lavishly. Many worship or present food at these tombstones, and some even burn fake paper money, paper cars, and other fake “luxury items” in hopes that their ancestors and loved ones will have plenty of wealth in the afterlife.
The Cambodian holiday P’chum Ben on October 5th to 7th is also an event to pay respects to family members that are no longer alive. Friends and family come together to listen to local monks perform speeches and music. Buddhists also leave sweet sticky rice and banana leaf-wrapped bean offerings at temples to honour their ancestors.
It seems that not too many other countries actually celebrate Halloween like we do in America. However, a lot of other countries have holidays that celebrate and honor the dead. No matter where you are in the world, it is important to remember those who came before you!