Halloween Celebrated Around The World

As one of our planet’s oldest holidays, Halloween is celebrated in many ways, dependent upon which part of the world is being considered. The primary language group of a particular country or culture seems to be an important clue as to the nature of the festivities.

Let’s take an alphabetical wander around the world:

AUSTRIA – Before going to bed for the night, Austrians will leave bread, water, and a lighted lamp out for visitors from the spirit world in the hopes that those items would offer hospitality to the dead souls coming back to Earth at a time the Austrians considered to be vital with powerful cosmic energies.

BELGIUM – Belgians seem not to care for black cats around Halloween; they feel it is extremely unlucky for a black cat to cross one’s approach or if the cat should walk into a home or voyage on a ship. The memory of dead relatives is honored with lit candles.

CANADA – Our neighbor to the north, Canada, began celebrating Halloween upon the arrival of Scottish and Irish settlers in the 1800s. Very much like the festivities in the United States, Canadians carve Jack O’ Lanterns, have parties, go trick-or-treating, and decorate their homes and yards in rustic, harvest themes of pumpkins and corn stalks.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA – On Halloween night, Czechs arrange chairs around the family fireplace, leaving one for each member of the family and one for each depaeted family member’s spirit.

ENGLAND – In times gone by, English children used large beet roots to create “punkies”, carving designs of their own choosing. Carrying the “punkies” along the streets (like our plastic Jack O’ Lanterns/flashlight combos?), the children sing the “Punkie Night Song”, knocking on doors and asking for money. Out in the countryside, lanterns made of turnips were situated on gateposts to enable the homes to be liberated from the free-roaming Halloween spirits.

Another custom involved lightly throwing items such as small rocks, vegetables, and nuts into an open-air fire in an attempt to scare off the malevolent spirits and also used as fortunetelling tools. If a stone was neither visible in the morning nor if it had been moved, it was the accepted belief that to whom the pebble belonged would die within the year.

Most importantly, upon Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses of the Protestant Revolution on Halloween, October 31, 1517, England’s celebration of Halloween trickled off. The British saw no reason to celebrate the Eve of All Saint’s Day since they no longer believed in the Saints of the Catholic Church.

In recent times, English children have joined their American cousins in wearing costumes and going trick-or-treating from door to door. Unfortunately, many older British adults do not understand this “new” custom and are often caught ill-prepared in showering their young visitors with sweets.

FRANCE – The French do not celebrate Halloween with the purpose of ancestor worship foremost in their minds. The holiday is considered an American festivity and as such, it was literally unknown in France until about 1996.

GERMANY – Germans put their knives away on Halloween night so that accidental risk will not visit upon returning spirits.

IRELAND – Ireland is believed to be the birthplace of Halloween and the holiday is as popular in Ireland as it is in the United States. Bonfires are lit as they were in ancient times and children go trick-or-treating in costume around their own neighborhoods. At the end of the trick-or-treating, families and friends attend parties where many games are played. The popular “snap-apple” involves an apple tied to a string which in turn is tied to a tree or doorway; party goers try to get a bite out of the dangling apple. Some say this practice is unsanitary but it certainly is fun. Card games hiding prizes are popular with the children.

One of the favorite traditional Irish foods eaten on Halloween is “barnbrack”, a kind of fruitcake which is either baked at home or can be store-bought. A treat that has been wrapped in muslin is baked inside the cake and it is said that it will foretell the future of the person finding it. If the treat is a ring, a wedding will soon take place and if a piece of straw is hidden, a prosperous year will visit upon the lucky winner.

SWEDEN – The Swedes call Halloween “Alla Helgons Dag” and extend its celebration from October 31st to November 6th. “Alla Helgons Dag” Eve is either celebrated at night or it became a shortened working day. The Friday before All Saint’s Day is a shortened day for universities and younger, school-aged children have a day of vacation.

Halloween practice in Asia puts definite emphasis on ancestor worship.

CHINA – The Chinese celebrate the Halloween festival of “Teng Chieh”. On that night, offerings of food and water are arranged in front of photographs of deceased family members and bonfires and lanterns are ignited or lit to mark the path s of the roaming ancestral spirits as they journey the Earth on Halloween night. At Buddhist temples, the faithful shape paper “boats of the law”, some of which are extremely large, and then burn them during the evening. This custom serves two purposes: to remember the dead and to free the spirits of the “pretas” so they will be able to rise up to Heaven. “Pretas” are the spirits of those relatives who met with a harsh death due to an accident or drowning and whose bodies have yet to be buried. The Chinese believe the presence of “pretas” among the living to be dangerous. Guided by Buddhist temples, societies are created to perform ceremonies for the “pretas”, including lighting lanterns. Sacred verses are recited by monks and offerings of fruit are made.

HONG KONG – “Yue Lan” (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) is the name of the Halloween celebration in Hong Kong. Residents believe that spirits rove the world for twenty-four hours. Pictures of fruit or money are burned at this time in the hopes of reaching the spirit world and offering solace to the ghosts.

JAPAN – Instead of Halloween, the Japanese celebrate the ” Obon Festival” (otherwise known as “Matsuri” or “Urabon), celebrating the spirits of ancestors. There is preparation of special foods and bright red lanterns are hung everywhere. Lit candles are placed into the lanterns which are then set afloat on rivers and seas. During the “Obon Festival”, a fire is ignited every night to illuminate where the departed ancestors might find their families. There are two main occasions during the Japanese Halloween, “Obon” being one of them, when it is believed the dead return to their birthplaces. Community dances are performed and memorial stones are cleaned. The “Obon Festival” takes place in July or August, rather than in October.

KOREA – Koreans celebrate “Chusok”, a festival similar to Halloween. Families take the time to thank their departed ancestors for the fruits of their labors. Families visit their tombs, making offerings of fruits and rice. “Chusok” takes place during August.

Spanish-speaking countries, such as Mexico, those countries in Latin America, and Spain celebrate ‘El Dia de los Muertos” – the “Day of Death”. Instead of being a sad occasion, family and friends gather together to remember those who have died. Although it is officially commemorated on November 2nd (All Soul’s Day), the celebrations last three days, beginning on the evening of October 31st. Believing the dead return to their homes on Halloween, it is a common practice for families to construct a home altar and to decorate it with candy, flowers, photographs, fresh water, and small portions of the deceased’s favorite foods and beverages. Often, a wash basin and towel are left out so that the spirit might be able to wash up before enjoying the feast. Incense and candles are burned to help the departed spirit find his or her home. Families also spruce up the gravesites of the deceased by clipping weeds, painting, and making general repairs. Once tidied up, the grave is decorated with flowers, wreaths, or paper streamers. Frequently, a live person will climb into an otherwise empty casket which is paraded through the streets, vendors tossing fruit, flowers, and candies into the coffin. On November 2nd, families assemble at the gravesite to have a picnic and to reminisce about the dearly departed. Some of these gatherings become so involved they might even include tequila and a mariachi band. The Fall season in Mexico is the time when untold numbers of Monarch butterflies take shelter in Mexico’s oyamel fir trees; the Aztecs believed these butterflies carried the spirits of dead ancestors.