Is the spooky night of October 31st simply about witches and Jack-o’-Lanterns? While Halloween in the United States has become one of the most massive consumer holidays – one of plump orange pumpkins and cauldrons of dry ice – the religious and spiritual roots of the holiday are preserved, in some form, in various countries around the world. Here's a peek at how other cultures do it up for Halloween:
Mexican traditions celebrate Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, on November 1st and 2nd. Families and friends come together to celebrate their departed loved ones, often building alters and placing favorite foods, beverages, and photos of their deceased relatives.
In Germany, according to Hugh O’Donnell, author of Treat or Trick: Halloween in a Globalising World, the holiday has become a massive secular event. Some people, however, still practice the tradition of hiding their knives on Halloween night to avoid encounters with malicious spirits.
Great Britain celebrates Halloween by watching fireworks and partying in costumes, from October 31st to November 5th. On the night of November 5th, the Brits commemorate the infamous British traitor Guy Fawkes, by lighting bonfires. It's appropriate, considering Fawkes, a Roman Catholic restorationist, was caught guarding the gunpowder in a mission to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. This celebration, called Guy Fawkes Night, has little to do with Halloween (or the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, in which our holiday has its roots). For the most part, the country stopped celebrating Halloween because of the Protestant Reformation. “There’s not quite the ‘everything as a pumpkin’ motif that we have in America, which tends to represent the end of harvest season and the coming of winter,” says Nick Russell, an American consultant and strategist living in London. “It has a decidedly darker feel, perhaps more in line with the pagan ritual of scaring off spirits.” Leaving bread, water, and light.
In Austria, during the week of Seleenwoche (October 30 to November 8), people leave bread, water, and a lamp on a table before bedtime. In the past, it was believed these items welcomed dead souls.
China holds several festivals that are similar to Halloween, including Teng Chieh, a Lantern Festival that closes off Chinese New Year celebrations. Lanterns formed like dragons, swans, and other animals are hung in the streets or near households, protecting people from evil and lighting the way for wandering spirits. Family members also honor deceased loved ones by placing food and water in front of their photos. In addition, a Festival of Hungry Ghosts is another celebration in which angry spirits are offered food and gifts to pacify negative feelings and help to prevent actions of revenge. People also light candles and try to avoid black cats.
Japan celebrates the Obon Festival in the summer, which honors the spirits of ancestors. Red lanterns are hung everywhere and also released into rivers and the sea. For the duration of the festival, a fire is lit each night to guide a spirit to its family’s location – during this time, the deceased return to where they were born.
If your child thinks Halloween is strictly about carving pumpkins and bobbing for apples, teach her that there’s much more to it. A worldwide celebration, Halloween and its variations are full of history and tradition.