All holidays have certain implications, and Halloween is no exception. Most people think of costumes, parties, Trick or Treat, or tales of spooky hauntings. My memories of Halloween are usually centered around being bundled up as I ran around the neighborhood with my friend dressed as Tinkerbell. After a night full of candy gathering, I returned home and ate candy with my sister until we couldn’t fit anymore into our stomachs while we watched scary movies or ready spooky stories late into the night. Celebrating Halloween means there is always an aspect of fun attached, and as I’ve found fun is no exception in other countries. To see what I mean, here’s how a few other countries enjoy this evening in honor of the dead:
Ever wonder where Halloween began? Ireland enjoys this holiday with costumes and Trick-or-Treating and in rural areas, bonfires are lit. After Trick-or-Treating, people attend parties and play games including “snap-apple,” a game where an apple on a string is tied to a doorframe or tree and people playing the game try to bite the apple. Barnbrack, a traditional fruitcake, is bought or baked at home and it is a common belief that it can foretell the eater’s future. If the eater discovers a ring, that the person will marry soon, but if a piece of straw is found, it means that a prosperous year is ahead. Children also play tricks on neighbors, including “knock-a-dolly,” a prank where they knock on the doors of their neighbors and run away before someone answers the door.
Mexico, Latin America, and Spain
Dia de los Muertos (All Souls’ Day) isn’t just an evening holiday, it’s a three-day celebration that begins on October 31st. This celebration is observed as a day to honor the dead who are believed to return to their earthly home. Many families set up altars in their homes with decorations of candy, flowers, and samples of the deceased family member’s favorite food or drink with a washbasin and towel left out for the spirit to wash before indulging in the offerings. Graves are often decorated with flowers, wreaths, or paper streamers after the gravesite has been cleaned. On November 2nd, relatives gather at the gravesite to picnic and remember the deceased.
Guy Fawkes Day began as a commemoration for the execution of a notorious English traitor, Guy Fawkes. This came about after the English decided to end the celebration of Halloween as Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation took over and the religion did not believe in saints or need to celebrate the eve of All Saints Day. The story of Fawkes began on November 5, 1606, when he was executed for attempting to destroy England’s parliament building. Bonfires, which were called “bone fires,” were arranged to burn effigies and symbolic “bones” of the Catholic pope. Centuries later, these effigies of the pope were replaced with effigies of Guy Fawkes. In some parts of England, children also walk the streets carrying an effigy or “guy” and ask for “a penny for the guy,” which could also be seen as a way of the American practice of Trick-or-Treats.
Instead of honoring the deceased in October, Japan recognizes those who have passed in during the Obon Festival in July or August. During this time special foods are cooked and bright red lanterns are displayed. Candles are lit and placed into lanterns which are then set afloat on rivers and seas. A fire is also lit every night to guide spirits to their families and it is believed the dead return to birthplaces. In rural areas, the pathway from the grave to the home cleaned and the home is cleaned as well. On the 13th, an altar is arranged with food offerings and “welcoming fires” are set in front of the house to guide spirits. On the 15th, “send-off fires” are lit for spirits to go back to their graves. Memorial stones are cleaned and community dances performed. Some people may wear a yukata, a lightweight cotton kimono.
Honoring ancestors and those from our past are important to cultures all around the world. While some chose to Trick-or-Treat and tell ghost stories, others choose to recognize the deceased with altars and ceremonies of worship. No matter where you are in the world, this holiday can be a one-day party or several days of remembrance, no wonder so many people enjoy Halloween.
What other celebrations do you know of that honor those who have passed? How do other cultures honor their ancestors?
Cover Image Photo: Pixabay
“Halloween Around the World.” History.com, 2009.
“Halloween Traditions and Celebrations Around the World.” Pumpkin Patches and More, October 2016.