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Celebrations Around the World: Halloween

A new week means only one thing here on Into the Wild…a brand new theme. This week we’ll be looking at some of the many celebrations around the world. As today just so happens to be Halloween, we thought this the perfect starting point. So if you’ve always wondered where this strange tradition comes from, and how it’s celebrated in other parts of the world, read on…if you dare!

Photo courtesy of Niaxilin



As one of the world's oldest holidays, Halloween continues to be celebrated from the Far East to Latin America and almost everywhere in between.

Its origins are typically linked to the medieval Celtic/Pagan festival of Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest and heralded the "darker half" of the year. There was a sense that this was the time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest and when the dead revisited the mortal world. Halloween is also thought to have been heavily influenced by the Christian All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, which were dedicated to honoring the Saints and praying for the recently departed who had yet to reach heaven.

In the 1840's, Halloween traditions were brought to America by the transatlantic migration of Irish people following the potato famine. In America and Canada the Halloween celebrations became more commercial and ceremonial and, as a result, Halloween became increasingly popular. Now these new customs are continuing to spread to countries across the world on account of the popularisation of American TV shows/movies and the commercialization of Halloween costumes, decorations and foods.

Regional Variety:

The celebrations most commonly associated with Halloween include guising, trick-or-treating and carving jack o’laterns. Many nations also share in the ancient beliefs that Halloween carries connotations of nocturnal visiting and processions of the dead.  Having said this, the celebrations associated with Halloween are incredibly varied across nations, some a little stranger than others.

Here are some examples of traditions one wouldn’t necessarily associate with our westernised Halloween today:

Ireland: The birthplace of Halloween. In rural areas, bonfires are lit as they were in the days of the Celts. Most people attend parties where many games are played, including bobbing for apples and "snap-apple," where an apple on a string is tied to a doorframe or tree, with players attempting to take a bite out of the suspended fruit. Parents often arrange treasure hunts with sweets or pastries and the Irish also play a game where cards are laid face-down on a table with sweets or coins beneath them. When a child selects a card, he or she receives whatever prize might be found there. Barnbrack, a fruitcake with a muslin-wrapped treat baked inside, is a traditional food eaten on Halloween. It is said that the treat can foretell the future of the one who finds it. For example, if the prize is a ring, then that person will soon be wed and if the prize is a piece of straw, a prosperous year is forthcoming.

Photo courtesy of crsan

Czech Republic & Slovakia: ‘Dusicky’ is celebrated on the 2nd November with citizens visiting the graveyards of their relatives. They decorate the graves, bringing flowers and lighting candles in their memory.

Mexico, Latin-America and Spain: Halloween is known as "El Dia de los Muertos" (The day of the dead). It is officially commemorated on November 2 (All Souls' Day), but the three-day celebration actually begins on the evening of October 31. In order to honor the dead, who are believed to return to their homes on Halloween, many families construct an altar in their home and decorate it with sweets, flowers, photographs, fresh water and a selection of the deceased's favorite foods and drinks. Frequently, a basin and towel are left out in order that the spirit can wash before indulging in the feast. Candles and incense are burned to help the departed find his or her way home and graves are tidied and adorned with flowers, wreaths or paper streamers. Often, a living person is placed inside a coffin and paraded through the streets while vendors toss fruit, flowers and sweets into the casket. On November 2nd, relatives gather at the gravesite to picnic and reminisce. Tequila and a mariachi band are occasional accompaniments to this tradition, although American Halloween customs are gradually taking over this celebration.

China:  The Halloween festival ‘Teng Chieh’ involves food and water being placed in front of photographs of deceased relatives. Bonfires and lanterns are also lit in order to light the paths of the spirits as they travel the earth on Halloween night. Worshippers in Buddhist temples fashion "boats of the law" from paper which are burned in the evening hours. This custom is carried out in memory of the dead in order to free the spirits of the "pretas"; the spirits of those who died as a result of an accident or drowning and whose bodies were consequently never buried.  Under the guidance of Buddhist temples, societies are formed to carry out ceremonies for the "pretas," which includes the lighting of lanterns, monks reciting sacred verses and fruits being offered.

Japan: The "Obon Festival" is the Japanese equivalent to Halloween festivities taking place in July or August. In dedication to the spirits of ancestors, special foods are prepared and bright red lanterns are hung everywhere. Candle-lit lanterns are also set afloat on rivers and seas. A fire must be lit every night in order to show the ancestors where their families might be found. Memorial stones are cleaned and community dances performed.

By Greta Hedly-Miller

Reader Comments (1)

Excellent video of this years Dia de los muertos in Oaxaca http://vimeo.com/31672035

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaverick

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