By Harriet O’Connor
Halloween is right around the corner, which in England is synonymous with sweets, toffee-apples, trick or treating and half-hearted fancy dress costumes.
However, Halloween is actually one of the oldest holidays, and is a large event for many other cultures around the world too, who have created elaborate and unique customs and traditions to honour deceased family and friends, and even keep evil spirits at bay.
Read on to discover a Halloween experience further afield that will certainly be like no other…
Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos (‘Day of the Dead’) is perhaps the most well known ghoulish celebration, characterised by the beautiful skeleton ‘catrina’ costumes and sugar skull sweets. The holiday, which falls on November 1st and 2nd each year, is a time of reflection and prayer to remember loved ones who have died. People set up an altar with offerings, clean and decorate graves, and all-night graveside vigils take place.
Rather than gorging on sugar-coated Haribo spiders throughout Halloween, many Italians prefer to bake bean-shaped cakes called Beans of the Dead. In southern Italy, families prepare a delicious feast for their departed relatives before going to church, leaving their homes open so spirits can feast.
All Saints Day takes place on the 1st of November. Catholic Germans honour the memory of saints as well as remembering deceased relatives, by visiting their graves, attending a special church service, lighting candles and praying. From October 30th to November 8th, people also hide knives so returning spirits won’t be hurt.
During China’s ‘Hungry Ghost’ festival, held on the 15th night of the seventh month in the Chinese calendar, lanterns and bonfires are lit to guide spirits back to earth from the lower realm. Water, food and incense are placed before portraits of dead relatives and laid out for wandering ghosts.
Children in Ireland celebrate Halloween by dressing up, trick or treating and playing a traditional game called ‘snap-apple’, which is fairly similar to Apple-bopping, where an apple is tied on a tree and people attempt to bite it.
Japan’s Buddhist version of Halloween is the festival of lanterns, Obon, which is held in August to honour ancestors’ spirits. People return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves. Bright red lanterns are also hung and placed on rivers to float to help guide the returning spirits back to the household altars.
During the Nepali holiday of Gai Jatra (“Cow Pilgrimage”), as well as dressing up in western-style Halloween costumes, every family who has lost a member during the previous year creates a tai out of bamboo branches, cloth, and paper decorations, in which are placed portraits of the deceased.
During the commemoration of the All Departed at the end of Autumn, Czechs place flowers and candles on graves. At home, they place a chair for each dead relative by the fireside. Legend has it that the living are able to communicate with the dead during this festival.
Korea’s version of Halloween is called ‘chuseok’, and is a major traditional holiday. The event is used as a time to thank ancestors by visiting their shrines and performing ancestral worship rituals early in the morning.
Cambodia’s ‘Pchum Ben’ festival is a celebration linked to the lunar calendar, where Buddhists honour their dead by bringing sweet sticky rice and beans wrapped in banana leaves to temples and gather with family and friends to hear music and speeches by monks.
Wherever you decide to celebrate this Halloween, be organised and diligent. You may not be able to prepare yourself for ghosts, witches and vampires, but ensure you have the correct insurance, keep your passport safe, and be sure to consult the Foreign Office’s travel advice before and during your exciting trip!
Photography: Jenny Huey via Flickr