Most scholars agree that the modern version of Halloween that we celebrate today originated with the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain. From there, however, everyone seems to have taken this ancient tradition and stylized it in their own particular way. While many Western countries will go trick-or-treating and carve pumpkins on Halloween, this is not necessarily the case elsewhere.
Different Halloween, or Halloween-like, traditions can be found throughout the world. And while not all countries celebrate Halloween, many have commemorations for the dead that are similar. In this post, we’ll look at some of the different Halloween traditions from around the world.
Here Are 13 Halloween Traditions From Around the World
In the United States, Halloween is a big deal. Americans like to mix in all sorts of random activities to get in the holiday spirit. The majority of people, both adults and children alike, will wear costumes. Children go door-to-door “trick-or-treating,” while adults throw parties and try to outdo each other with the creativity of their outfits. Throw in menacingly-carved pumpkins, the waning tradition of bobbing for apples, and a horror movie or two, and you’re left with a holiday that really has something for everyone, even if nobody really understands any of it.
Ognissanti (All Saints’ Day) and Tutti I Morti (All Souls’ Day), take place November 1st and 2nd, respectively, as is the case in many Catholic regions around the globe. These are very religious occasions where people pay their respects to their deceased family and friends. In some areas, they also carve pumpkins to represent the “heads of the dead.”
Ireland and Scotland
The alleged birthplace of Halloween, they still call it Samhain and celebrate with fire, fun, and some really random traditional foods. Some of those foods contain symbolic buttons, coins, and rings hidden inside, so chew at your own risk!
Pangangaluluwâ is celebrated in a very similar manner to our Halloween, except the children have to sing songs for their candy instead of simply demanding it on the threat of retribution. What, you expect people to just give you candy for nothing?
Halloween is not celebrated officially in Romania, but the country still manages to get in on the spooky fun. Romania is, afterall, home to historical region of Transylvania, which is often associated with vampires in the English-speaking world. The far-reaching fame of Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes and his fictional alter-ego, Dracula, draws visitors to Romania all year-round. Tourists come to explore medieval castles or take part in other festivals, with trips during Halloween being particularly popular.
Fed Gede is the “Festival of the Ancestors” in Haiti. Typical traditions around the holiday include Voodoo ceremonies, lighting candles at the resting place of the dead, and drinking chili rum. People will dress up in costume, dance in the streets, and even visit graveyards to offer gifts to their dead loved ones. Think Mardi Gras, Day of the Dead, and Halloween all rolled up into one!
One might be surprised to learn that Halloween is celebrated in Japan. In fact, the holiday is actually getting more popular and hyped each year, with costumes being especially prominent. One of the growing Japanese Halloween traditions is the Kawasaki Halloween Parade in the greater Tokyo area. Each year, some 4,000 costumed participants take to the streets in their most creepy costumes. It’s no free-for-all, however, as there are strict guidelines and participation requires registration at least 2 months in advance.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is an extravagant affair in much of Mexico. Lasting from October 31st to November 2nd, it is believed that the souls of the dead actually return to Earth during this time. To commemorate lost loved ones, people make offerings at private altars covered in food and drinks. While the souls of the children receive toys and candy, the adults might be treated to more grown-up things like mezcal and cigarettes.
All around the world, people celebrate and honor their dead. Every culture has its own set of traditions and customs, and while they may not all take place at the same time as our Halloween, they involve many similar themes.
Gai Jatra is celebration in Nepal that takes place in August, also known as the “Festival of Cows.” The Nepalese believe that leading a cow through the streets will help the deceased make it to heaven. If you don’t have a cow handy, you’re allowed to dress up a child as one instead.
Pitru Paksha is a Hindu tradition where souls return to Earth for a short time, at which time a fire ritual and various offerings must occur in order to keep them from wandering the globe for the rest of their days. The holiday dates are based on a 16–lunar day period in Hindu calendar.
The Awuru Odo Festival commemorates the return of the dead to the land of the living, an occurrence that happens every 2 years according to Igbo tradition. The festival, which has three distinct stages, can last a whopping 6 months, and involves feasts, masks, and live music.
Pchum Ben is a 15-day Cambodian religious festival, and is a time when many Cambodians pay their respects to dead relatives. It also features the added wrinkle of buffalo races.
The Hungry Ghost Festival is a popular month-long celebration intended to provide money and food for the apparently poor and starving ghosts of the departed.
Halloween itself is limited to just a few parts of the world. But almost every culture features traditions with similar themes. The specifics may change, the offerings may vary, but the overall sentiment remains the same – doing what needs to be done to keep the souls of the dead happy.