While not every country celebrates it, most people around the world have probably either heard of or celebrate Halloween. Even for countries where it isn’t a widespread tradition, there are still plenty of people who join in the fun of dressing up and trick-or-treating. But have you ever considered what kind of similar holidays other countries might be celebrating? Turns out, many countries have a holiday which could be thought of as similar to Halloween- with some even occurring on the same date.
Want to learn more about spooky themed traditions? Keep on reading.
Ireland and Scotland
Let’s start with where it all began, shall we?
If you’ve ever wondered where the meaning of Halloween comes from- well, it actually started with the ancient Celtic spiritual tradition of Samhain. The word itself started as “All Hallows Eve,” which meant hallowed evening. This eventually over the years transformed into Halloween. The idea of Halloween was born when 19th century Irish immigrants brought this tradition with them to America.
Samhain is celebrated from October 31st to November 1st to welcome in harvest and the ‘darker half of the year.’ The walls between the spirit world and the living are supposedly broken down during Samhain, making it a time for interaction between humans and those of the ‘spirit world.’ There are several monsters associated with Samhain, such as a shape-shifting creature known as a ‘Pukah.’ There is also The Lady Gwyn, a headless woman dressed in white and accompanied by a black pig who chases the living at night. Another one is The Dullahan, headless men riding horses whilst carrying their heads in one hand. The list could go on and on, but in order to spare us the nightmares, let’s just conclude that Samhain is certainly a scary concept.
The costume wearing of Halloween actually began with the Celtic tradition of dressing up as evil spirits. Since the barriers between the living and dead overlap during Samhain, the Celts would dress up as demons so that, if they encountered a real demon, they would think you are one of them and you could then be safe.
As for trick or treating, since the Middle-Ages children would dress up in costumes and go door to door, asking for food or money in exchange for a song, poem, prayer or some kind of performance. This was known as ‘souling’ and the children were called ‘soulers.’
The Hungry Ghost Festival
The Hungry Ghost Festival certainly fits the spooky theme just in its name alone. It is celebrated during the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month. The name comes from the ceremonies which are held to ward off negative spirits. It is said that on this day the gates of the afterlife open and the deceased wander the earth in search of food, entertainment and mischief. To appease them and avoid their wrath, the living offer food, burning incense, money, and entertainment during an outdoor ghost-feeding ceremony. People have big feasts during the night of the festival, and it is common to leave a chair open for an ancestor.
There are a few ideas of where the tradition comes from. Some believe it originated in Taoism, the indigenous religion of China. This belief says that the hungry ghosts are released to find food and take revenge on those who have committed bad behavior according to Taoist records.
Another story says that King Yama, the King of Hell, opens the gates of hell and allows a selection of ghosts to be released for a limited period of time. When the gates close again, the hungry ghosts return to hell. Many Chinese think that the gates of heaven are opened as well, which is why some spend this day worshipping their ancestors.
Dia de Los Muertos
Mexico, Latin America & Spain
Dia de Los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, takes place on November 1st and is a day to celebrate the significance of life and death. While the holiday is celebrated throughout Latin America, it has its strongest ties with Mexico, where the tradition originated. While one would think of death as being associated with sadness and mourning, Dia de Los Muertos actually honours the deceased through lively celebration and festivals. The day is spent enjoying good food and parties with friends and family. It is believed that the dead are reawakened on this day to spend time with their loved ones.
A popular symbol of Dia de los Muertos is in its calacas and calaveras, skeletons and skulls. Skull shaped decorations of all kinds in bright, cheerful colours can be found, symbolizing the celebration of death as a natural part of life.
Guy Fawkes Night
This one has little to do with Halloween- but it takes place only two days afterwards, is an excuse to watch fireworks with friends, and has a pretty gruesome meaning behind the celebration. Did you know that Guy Fawkes Night is actually commemorating the execution of a man named Guy Fawkes? Kind of brutal, right?
Guy Fawkes was one of the individuals involved in a plan, known as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, to blow up the House of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) and kill the king in order to reestablish the Catholic rule in England. This plan failed and one of its conspirators, Guy Fawkes, was taken into custody and then executed. The holiday became a day to commemorate the failure of The Gunpowder Plot.
Like many holidays, it has lost a lot of its original significance, with it now being much more about a fun day to party and see fireworks at the park with friends. But, if you think about what we are actually celebrating, it's pretty odd!
Fun fact- did you know that the word ‘guy’ is actually named after Guy Fawkes?
Probably one of the most popular Halloween costumes has to be a vampire. Well, what if you could celebrate Halloween in the birthplace of Dracula? Now that would be spooky- but totally fun.
Halloween isn’t largely celebrated in Romania- but it is worth an honorable mention due to it being home to Transylvania, where Vlad the Impaler, the real-life inspiration for Dracula, is from. And guess what- you can actually go and visit Bran Castle, aka Dracula’s Castle, on Halloween! There are a whole bunch of Dracula themed parties and events around Halloween in Transylvania, and you can even attend a party at the castle itself! Very cool.
Also known as Paksha/Pitr-Paksha, Pitri Pokkho, Sorah Shraddha, Kanagat, Jitiya, Mahalaya, Apara Paksha and akhadpak.
This year, Pitru Paksha lasts through September 21 - October 6th. Pitru Paksha is a 16-day period in which people perform rituals to pay homage to ancestors. According to Hindu beliefs, during this time spirits return to the earth to visit their descendants. Family members offer food and drink to satisfy the hunger and thirst of their ancestors.
Prayers are held and rituals are performed with the intent of helping souls to be freed from the cycle of birth, life and death.
This article showcases only a selection of countries- there are actually many more holidays resembling the meaning of Halloween!
All in all, history seems to show us that most countries, whether they celebrate Halloween or not, have integrated some kind of spooky-themed celebration into their culture. They might not include crazy costumes or handing out free candy- but they exist with their own fascinating and unique customs nonetheless.