Halloween Traditions from Around the World
It’s that time of year again when the darkest and scariest night of them all is upon us…We’re talking about Halloween of course! Halloween is celebrated yearly across the world, usually on the night of the 31st of October. In the UK today, Halloween is all about trick or treating or guising, pumpkin carving, fancy dress parties, bonfires and apple bobbing – but this is not the case everywhere.
In this article we’ll look at some different ways of celebrating Halloween, but first let’s discover more about the origins of this celebration.
The origins of Halloween
The word “Halloween” dates back to 1745 and means “holy evening”. It’s of Christian origin and comes from the Scottish term for All Hallows’ Eve. This eve states the beginning of the time in the church year that is dedicated to remembering the dead, called Allhallowtide. Traditionally All Hallow’s Eve has always been about using “humour and ridicule to confront the power of death.”
As with so many Christian celebrations, this one is also believed to have pagan roots and can be traced back thousands of years to the ancient Celtic harvest festival of Samhain. This Celtic festival marked the end of summer and beginning of the cold dark winter, and symbolised the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The Celts believed that the ghosts of their dead would revisit on the night of 31st October, and to scare off any unwelcome evil spirits people wore costumes and large bonfires were lit in each village.
It’s always interesting to see how other cultures celebrate celebrations dear to us, so let’s take a look at four ways of spending Halloween in other countries.
China – The Hungry Ghost Festival
There are, in fact, several days and an entire month in China that are similar to what we call Halloween. One of them is the Ghost Festival that is celebrated on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, generally regarded as the Ghost Month (in 2014 that was on 10th August). During the festival ghosts and spirits are believed to visit the living, and on the 15th day Heaven, Hell and the realm of the living are open and rituals are performed by Buddhists and Taoists to absolve the sufferings of the dead.
During Ghost Month food offerings are prepared, incense and papier-mâché figures of material items such as clothes, gold and valuables are burned and paper boats and lanterns are released on water. Festive (often vegetarian) meals are prepared and served also to deceased family members with an empty seat for them.
Mexico – Díade los Muertos
Mexico’s Day of the Dead is a colourful celebration that you might recognise from media. The holiday that is celebrated on 31st October, 1st and 2nd November honours relatives who have passed away. It is believed that the spirits of the dead return to their earthly homes to reunite with friends and family.
Traditions connected to the holiday include building private altars generously decorated with flowers, photographs, sugar skulls, marigolds, candles and the loved ones’ favourite foods and drinks. People also visit graves bringing gifts.
When talking about Halloween celebrations you cannot leave out the States. The Americans have taken this pagan festival and turned it into a commercialised and extremely profitable holiday characterised by decorated houses and excited children in fancy dress costumes going from door to door begging for sweets.
Trick or treating dates back to the early All Soul’s Day parades where the poor would beg for something to eat and the better off would offer them pastries called “soul cakes”. Dressing up derives from the fear of encountering ghosts after nightfall – people used to wear masks when they went outside so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits and leave them alone.
Scandinavia – All Saints’ Day
In the Nordic countries the long-standing tradition on 31st October is for family members to light candles on the graves of loved ones, resulting in the cemeteries becoming beautiful seas of candles that light up the autumn night. It’s a quiet holiday spent in memory of loved ones that have passed, and not the commercial Halloween that is so common in many countries. Children in the Nordic countries do, however, also go trick or treating, but on Easter instead of Halloween.
What are your plans for Halloween?
How does your family celebrate Halloween? Or do you celebrate at all? If you’d like to get away this autumn or winter for a little mood-lifting break to the Scottish Highlands where you can get a fair dose of autumnal Halloween colours in all shades of orange, we’ve got a great 2-night hotel offer for you. The deal includes a midweek two-night stay at Hilton Coylumbridge, including breakfast and dinner on both days as well as a sparkling bottle of Prosecco. Prices from £79 per room per night - not scary at all!
Book your autumn break before it’s too late!