Halloween is a fun day of parties, costumes, pranks, candy and lots of fun. However, Halloween is not just a United States holiday, many countries have deep seeded cultural/spiritual beliefs regarding this fun yet ominous day. We are going to cover some of the history and cultural beliefs surrounding Halloween around the world. Ireland is where it is said that Halloween has evolved from. In the 16th Century, it was shortened from All-Hallows-Even to All-Hallows-Day or Halloween. You will see how many countries celebrate it very similarly to the way we do and many others are similar to each other in celebrating it as a day relating to the dead and/or spirits of their ancestors.
Arab Christians-Labanon, Syria and the West Bank/Gaza
Many of the people celebrate Saint Barbara’s Day or Eid Il-Burbara on December 4 which is similar or Halloween where children dress up in costumes and go trick or treating while singing a song. There is also traditional food for the occasion which is a bowl of boiled barley, pomegranate seed, raisins, anise and sugar which is offered to the children. The children believe that Saint Barbara disguised herself as many character to avoid persecution by the Romans.
Halloween in Australia is frowned upon by many because it has little to do with Australian culture. Though the US has bombarded Australia with horror movies and sit-coms it seems to be an unwelcomed holiday.
Brazilians never celebrated anything on October 31, but little by little, they are jumping on the bandwagon. The Portugese name is Dia das Bruxas (Day of the Witches). In Brazil kids yell "Doce ou Travessura!"while trick or treating.
Celebrating Halloween in Canada is very similar to celebrating it in the US. They happily decorate everything they can, stores, houses, yards, garages, etc. They dress up, adults and children and the children trick or treat. There is also a good amount of baking done for this day along with a special Halloween Beer that is created just for this holiday. Canada is a huge sponsor for UNICEF at Halloween, collecting money for them instead of candy for the children.
Central and South America
In most parts of Central and South America, kids will pay a visit to their neighbors and yell "¡Dulce o Truco!" ('Sweet or Trick!') in order to get candy. In Chile, Halloween has become more and popular over the last 20 years, imitating North American customs such as children dressing up, going house to house asking for candy, yelling "¡Dulce o travesura!", whereas teenagers and adults go to costume parties at discotheques. The Spanish name for Halloween is Noche de Brujas (Night of the Witches).
In China, Halloween is known as Teng Chieh. Food and water are placed in front of pictures of family members who have departed. Lanterns are lit in order to light the paths of the spirits as they travel the earth on this day.
Many of the customs in Columbia mask those of the US. Children dress up and visit their neighbors chanting, "¡Triqui triqui halloween, Quiero dulces para mi, Si no hay dulces para mi, Se le crece la nariz!" (Tricky tricky halloween, I want candy for me, If there is no candy for me, Your nose will grow!). There is no cultural precedent for the celebration of Halloween so they follow the US along with the US symbols associated with Halloween, witches, skeletons, spider webs, pumpkins, etc.
They celebrate the day before Halloween, October 30th on a night they call Mischief Night where the children play tricks on the adults. Over the years, this has gotten out of control and criminal actions have been a part of the celebrations. The children made “punkies” out of beetroots which were carvings of faces of their choosing on the root. They carried these along with them through the streets while trick or treating. In rural areas, turnip lanterns were carved and set on gateposts to ward off the evil spirits. Bobbing for apples is a fun activity they enjoy at parties along with making toffee apples and apple tarts. A custom was to throw a pebble into a bonfire at night. If it wasn’t visible in the morning it was then believed that the person who tossed the pebble would not survive another year. If nuts tossed into the blaze by young lovers then exploded, it signified a quarrelsome marriage.
In France, Halloween is known as La fete d' Halloween. They do not celebrate the holiday to honor the departed. Halloween was virtually unknown in this country until 1996, due to it being an American holiday, and some French natives refuse to celebrate it. It is not known if they are going to consider keeping the holiday long-term, but for now they wear costumes and attend parties. The local bakeries and candy shops make special desserts for the holiday and supermarkets sell pumpkins. Since pumpkins are not commonly sold in France, they are in high demand around the holiday for jack o' lanterns. Trick-or-treating is very rare in this country, but when they do it is from store to store, not house to house.
Many people also regard Halloween as an American custom imported to Germany. In present times, Halloween has become a ‘cool’ party theme for children and teenagers, who organize costume parties on that day, having a lot of fun. In certain regions, children even take part in trick or treating, where they wander from house to house seeking goodies and giving an idle threat of mischief, if the treat is not given. Another popular custom associated with Halloween in Germany involves the ‘Jack-o-Lantern’. In a small town in Austria, known as Retz, not very far from the city of Vienna, an annual pumpkin fest called Kurbisfest is also held, complete with parties and parades (Halloween Umzug). A major aspect of Germans’ spiritual pagan past is the famous spot for witches in the Harz Mountain in Germany. In the 18th century, natives believed that the region was the hovering spot for witches who were initially worshipped as forest goddesses and priestesses and later were damned as evil creatures. For the local people of Germany, the festival of Halloween is blended with Walpurgisnacht (night of the witches), which took place in the Harz Mountains. Today, the current Halloween traditions in the country includes parties and themed decorations, costume parades, watching horror movies, visiting the graveyards of near and dear ones and so on. In certain big cities like Berlin, school children even get ‘fall vacations’. Parties and excursions are organized and people spend the entire occasion in merry making and having a gala time.
“Yue Lan” or Festival of the Hungry Ghost where the people of Hong Kong give gifts to the spirits of the dead to provide comfort and ward them off. They would burn pictures of fruit and money hoping the images would reach the spirit world and comfort the ghosts. Secondly, the Americans and Canadians have brought Halloween to the city so locals decorate and dress up but trick or treating is not observed.
Again, American pop culture has brought Halloween into the mainstream for the new generation in India. It is considered a social event and mostly observed in major cities. They do decorate, dress up and collect candy which they then donate to the poor of the community.
Halloween is a widely celebrated cultural event known as Oiche Shamhna, literally “Samhain Night” which signified the end of the summer harvest. There would be a fire festival and feast where bonfires were lit to ward off evil and dead spirits who were trying to revisit the mortal world. Costumes and masks were worn to placate the spirits. Candle lanterns were carved from turnips (as pumpkins weren’t popular in Europe) and placed in windows to ward off evil spirits. Apples would be tied to a tree and hung from a string and the person would have to try to catch the apple in their mouth with no hands. A traditional food is eaten on Halloween called "barnbrack." This is a type of fruitcake which can be baked at home or store-bought. A muslin-wrapped treat is baked inside the cake which, so it is said, can foretell the future of the one who finds it. If the prize is a ring, then that person will soon be wed and a piece of straw means a prosperous year is forthcoming.
Between 1630 and 1640 the Catholic Church launched a campaign to get rid of surviving pagan traditions connected to All Saints’ Day and its eve. These feasts vanished completely until the mid-1970’s where just 1 million people out of 57 million admitted to celebrating Halloween. Their new traditions are based mostly on US traditions but not everything. They don’t know the history of the pumpkin or “zucca di Halloween” but they still carve it. Children trick or treat and get fruit or candy. The teens mostly enjoy just dressing up and playing tricks on each other. The elderly, obviously weren’t a part of this generation so they haven’t really accepted it and don’t really understand it as well.
"Obon Festival" (also known as "Matsuri" or "Urabon") is dedicated to the spirits of ancestors and their version of Halloween. Special foods are prepared and bright red lanterns are hung everywhere. Candles are lit and placed into lanterns which are then set to float on rivers and seas. During the "Obon Festival," a fire is lit every night in order to show the ancestors where their families might be found. "Obon" is one of the main occasions during the Japanese year when the dead are believed to return to their birthplaces. Memorial stones are cleaned and community dances performed. The "Obon Festival" takes place during July or August. Tradition Halloween has only recently become popular in Japan due to American pop culture at such places as Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan which put on many Halloween events. Trick or treat is not practiced and costumes are mostly limited to the small children and bars that are owned/run by foreigners.
Mexico has celebrated Halloween since the Aztecs where it is a three day celebration. First is Halloween where the death of the deceased person is celebrated, then All Saints’ Day and then Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos. The Day of the Dead is usually celebrated at the gravesite with flowers, candles, a small shrine, sometimes a mariachi band and a parade through the city. Also the return of the Monarch Butterflies to this area since in the time of the Aztecs it was believed to bring the spirits of the ancestors with them.
They celebrate a holiday called Undas or Araw ng mga Patay (Day of the Dead) on November 1st or November 2nd. Recently trick or treating has become popular in major cities.
Halloween is celebrated around the myth and their claim to fame, Dracula. Transylvania and Sighisoara are the biggest cities that hold costume parties for teens and adults and are modeled after US Halloween parties. The spirit of Dracula is believed to be there because the town was the site of many witch trials and due to many movies about Dracula.
In Switzerland, Halloween is seen as a Pagan Festival. It first became popular in 1999 but it is starting to decrease in popularity. People see it as a product imported from the United States and they’re not willing to buy into it. They already have a festival overload that is wrought with tradition.
Halloween is known as Nos Calan Gaeaf, the beginning of the new winter. Spirits are said to walk around and a ‘white lady’ ghost sometimes shows up. Bonfires are lit on the hillsides to mark the night.
***Recently the Catholic Church and some parents have expressed their concerns over the celebration of a day in which ghosts, goblins, witches and other expressions of evil are linked to the happiness of children. In recent years there has been a push to change the celebration of Halloween to the celebration of Children's Day, in which costumes and sweets would still be present, but the “sinister side” of the event would be suppressed. ***