Halloween Around the World



Women dressed as iconic Mexican “Catrinas” gather in an attempt to set a record for the most Catrinas in one place during Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City, Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. The figure of a skeleton wearing an elegant broad-brimmed hat was first done as a satirical engraving by artist Jose Guadalupe Posada sometime between 1910 and his death in 1913. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

Claire Payne, Staff Writer and Assistant Content Editor

October 31st is one of the biggest night for Americans. We put on our ornate costumes and head out to the streets for trick-or-treating, attend a Halloween Party full of bobbing for apples, or maybe even attend a Haunted House where the creepiest characters pop out at you in shadowy, eerie hallways. Now, this is how Americans celebrate Halloween, but how does the rest of the world celebrate this scary holiday?

In Ireland, where Halloween originated, Halloween is celebrated much like Americans. Children go trick-or-treating, and then maybe attend a party which would include “snap-apple,” very similar to bobbing for apples, treasure hunts with candy or pastries, and then a card game with candy or coins underneath the chosen card as a prize. In rural areas, bonfires are lit.

In Austria, they leave bread, water, and a lighted lamp on the table before going to bed that night. This was first started as a welcome to the dead souls back to earth on a night that Austrians considered to be magical.

In China, the festival that takes place on Halloween is called Teng Chieh. They place food and water in front of photographs of family members who have past while bonfires and lanterns are lit to light the paths of the spirits as they travel Earth on that night. Worshippers in Buddhist temples make “boats of the law” from paper which are then burned that night. This is a way to remember the dead and also free the spirits of the “pretas” in order that they might ascend to heaven. A “preta” is a spirit of one who died as a result of an accident or drowning and their body was never burned. According to the Chinese, “pretas” are dangerous, and societies are formed to carry out ceremonies for these spirits, where monks recite sacred verse and offerings of fruit are presented.

In Czechoslovakia, they place chairs by the fireside as a way to symbolize one chair for each living family member and one for each living family member and one for each family member’s spirit.

In Germany, the tradition is to put away knives on Halloween night. This is because they do not want to risk harm to (or from) the returning spirits.

In Hong Kong, the celebration is known as “Yue Lan” or the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. They believe that during this time, the spirits roam the world for twenty-hours. Some burn pictures of fruit or money, believing these images would reach the spirit world and bring comfort to the ghosts. They also offer gifts as a way to placate potentially angry ghosts who might be looking for revenge.

In Japan, they celebrate the “Obon Festival” during July or August, which is dedicated to the spirits of ancestors. They light candles and place them into lanterns are set afloat on rivers and seas. During the entirety of the festival, a fire is lit every night in order to show the ancestors where their families might be found. “Obon” is believed to be a time when the dead return to their birthplaces. As a result, the pathway from the graves to the home are swept clean, and on the 13th, an altar is set up with food offerings. They also light “welcoming fires” to welcome the spirits, and some people fire a priest to come and chant prayers. On the 15th, “send-off fires” are lit, and the spirits return to their graves.

In Mexico, they celebrate “El Dia de los Muertos.” If not already familiar with this holiday, it is a three-day celebration that begins on October 31st and ends on November 2nd. During this celebration, many families construct an altar in their home and decorate it with candy, flowers, photographs, and fresh water to honor the dead who are believed to return to their homes on Halloween. On November 2nd, families gather at the gravesite to picnic and reminisce, sharing stories of the departed and feasting on food such as spicy meat dishes, batter bread and lots of sweets. There are also many parades held where people dress as skeletons and dance in the streets. Oftentimes, a live person is placed inside a coffin and parades through the streets while vendors toss fruit, flowers and candies into the casket. The whole celebration is about life from beginning to end.

As every country has their own traditions and celebrations for Halloween, they all have a similar goal of honoring the dead. So as you celebrate Halloween this year, maybe you can spare these cool traditions a thought.