There are certain days on the calendar that get us really excited and I don’t know about you but Halloween is normally top of that list (move over Father Christmas!). When you think of Halloween it’s pumpkins and trick or treating that probably come to mind but there is a lot more to it than that. Around the world you’ll find a huge variety of Halloween traditions and other holidays which share the same origin and celebrations. For that reason, and as it is nearly that time of year, we’ve put together a collection of fascinating Halloween traditions and celebrations from around the world!
But what is Halloween?
Although Halloween traditions may seem fairly commercial now, the day is actually the result of ancient traditions, superstitions and invasions!
2,000 years ago in parts of the United Kingdom and France the Celts celebrated a festival known as Samhain on October 31st. According to traditional Celtic belief this was the last summer day when the harvest would finish and on November 1st the lands would begin to die and a dark winter begin. At this time the boundary between the world of the living and the dead would grow thin and spirits could come back to the living world. During this time folk would dress in costumes made of animal parts and light fires welcoming friendly spirits, warding off bad spirits and hoping for a safe winter.
What about All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day?
After the Roman occupation of Celtic lands a number of Roman Catholic traditions were combined with Samhain. On November 1st Christians would celebrate All Saints’ Day to honour saints and martyrs and this day was also known as All Hallows’ Day. Later November 2nd became celebrated as All Souls’ Day which was used to remember the dead. This day had many similar traditions to Samhain and it’s believed was an attempt by the church to replace the Celtic traditions.
Through time the Celtic day of Samhain began to be called All Hallows’ Eve before being shortened to Hallows’ Eve and then Halloween. Over the years Samhain, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day along with many other world celebrations have mixed together and shared traditions creating what we know as Halloween today.
So Halloween traditions around the world are different?
Halloween Traditions in St. Louis, America
By Christie and Catie from Upheaval Project
‘Why was the skeleton lonely?’
‘Because he had no “body” to play with!’
In St. Louis, kids don’t just say trick-or-treat to get their candy on Halloween – they have to tell a joke instead! Every kid, no matter their age, is expected to tell a joke before they get their treat.
The jokes don’t have to be Halloween-themed and they don’t actually have to be funny, but everyone knows that people give more candy to the kids with funny jokes. Plus, hearing all the kids jokes makes it a whole lot more fun to hand candy out all night!
There is disagreement about where this Halloween tradition comes from, though. Some say it started in Iowa in the 1930s while others say it dates back at least 100 years to Ireland. Regardless of its origin, kids in St. Louis will be looking at empty candy bags if they don’t have their jokes ready this Halloween!
Halloween Traditions in Romania
By Roxana from Nosy Suitcase
Romania, the land of Dracula, has its own Halloween: 30th of November, the night of Saint Andrew! Being an orthodox country, most of the celebrations are around the religious holidays, but some of them come from the ancient Dacian rituals. Saint Andrew is one of those, also called “The day of the wolf”, the animal played an important role in the Dacian pantheon.
What happens on this date? It is said that in this magical night, the dead rise from their tombs, the packs of wolfs go hunting and they start speaking with a human voice.
How is it celebrated? It is forbidden to use domestic animals for work or do any kind of work in the household. In order to be guarded of the evil spirits, people mark their doors and windows with garlic and they also grease the horns of cows with it. Also, all the pans and mugs have to be turned upside down so that the spirits can’t hide inside of them!
In the countryside, young people meet in each other’s houses and they party like it’s the New Year’s Eve. A cake is baked and tied with a rope in a high corner of the house. Through a game, they have to grab a bite of it for protection and good luck.
Since this night represents a connection between the dead and living, it is believed that women can see their soulmate in their dreams. For that they put basil leaves under their pillow overnight.
Halloween Traditions in Northern Spain – Night of the Pumpkins
By Sion & Ben from the Globetrotter Guys
After travelling extensively for the first half of the year, we couldn’t wait to settle down in Spain to recoup our savings and have a rest. We were really excited to enjoy some sun, sangria, tapas, but also to learn about the local Spanish traditions – especially those revolving around one of our favourite holidays – Halloween!
Halloween traditions in Spain are focused around the religious element of the holiday, All Saints Day, with celebrations spanning 3 days from 31st October. They keep it traditional, honouring the dead and celebrating life. In fact, very little emphasis is placed on the commercial aspect, such as you will find in the UK or the USA.
All Saints Day is celebrated much more in Northern Spain, especially in Galicia. On the 31st October, they celebrate Noite dos Calacús, or Night of the Pumpkins. Celebrations include pumpkin carving, lighting bonfires, costume parties, and the kids may even go trick or treating.
Also worth a mention is the traditional drink of Halloween, queimada. This is a punch like drink, made with Galician spirits and sugar, coffee beans, and orange or lemon rinds, although originally the drink was prepared with, you guessed it, pumpkin! The preparation involves setting the drink alight and chanting a spell. The combination of the flame and spell is said to ward off the evil spirits – just as the carved pumpkin does too!
We can’t wait to get involved with the locals at the end of the month!
Halloween Traditions in the Netherlands
By Rachel from Rachel’s Ruminations
Here in the Netherlands, a holiday with similar Halloween traditions takes place on November 11: Sint Maarten. Traditionally, children would take sugar beets, which are still grown here in large quantities, and carve them into faces. They’d place candles inside, illuminating the cut-out features, just like a pumpkin jack-o-lantern. Carrying this lamp from door to door, they’d sing a short song in exchange for a treat.
Today, the tradition continues, with slight modifications. For safety reasons the lamp is not carved from a sugar beet. The children make lanterns from paper, cellophane, etc. at school. The lanterns are not lit by candles, but rather hang on a plastic stick with a small battery-powered light hanging from the end. Also at school, they learn and practice a repertoire of short Sint Maarten songs. Just like on Halloween, people make sure they have as supply of small candies ready.
Starting at about four in the afternoon, the youngest ones – toddlers, accompanied by their parents – start going door-to-door. Some are too shy to sing; some tunelessly belt out the songs they’ve memorised. In either case, they’re unbelievably cute, and they often deliberate long and hard over which candy to choose. Later the bigger kids do their rounds, generally more skilful with both lantern-making and singing. If you don’t watch them carefully, they’ll grab a whole handful. Kids over 12 years old who go to secondary school generally don’t go door-to-door, but they enjoy handing out the candy (and eating what’s left over).
Halloween Traditions in the Philippines
By Noel from Ten Thousand Strangers
In the Philippines, the first two days of November are celebrated in commemoration of the beloved departed. November 1 is All Saints Day while November 2 is All Souls Day. But despite the stark differences between the two occasions, most family members opt to visit the graves on the first of November.
At these times of the year, family members living across the country return to their hometowns and, with the rest of the family, visit the graves of departed loved ones to offer prayers, flowers, and candles.
Being one of the very few occasions when most members of the families are reunited each year, the event often turns into an impromptu family reunion. Instead of bringing just candles and flowers in the graves, food and beverages are often brought in cemeteries.
As for the kids, they spend the day collecting melted wax, forming into balls to be taken home at the day’s end.
Halloween Traditions in Mexico
By Bailey from Destinationless Travel
Halloween in Mexico is actually a week-long ordeal of celebrations, festivities, and ceremonies called “Day of the Dead” or “Dia de los Muertos” in Spanish. It is not a scary holiday, it is in fact a traditional holiday where Mexicans remember and honour their deceased loved ones. While this may sound like a sombre event, it is actually a happy time where families get together and the spirit of their deceased loved ones are said to return for one day to visit. Death is not seen as a “sad” thing in Mexico, but rather as just a natural part of life.
For Day of the Dead there are parades and parties and it is common to see people dressed up as skeletons. But another part of Day of the Dead is the rituals that happen within the home. Families make up alters which are tables set up for a deceased person. On the alter you will often find photos of the person along with offerings. Offerings are usually items that the person would enjoy, for example, children often get lots of candies and figurines made completely of sugar, while an older man may be offered his favourite alcohol and cigarettes.