It is generally agreed that the modern version of Halloween that we celebrate now originated with the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain. This Gaelic word literally means ‘end of summer’ and is now used in Ireland to name the month of November.
Here are a few traditions from around the world which have to do with Halloween or similar themes, that is, honouring the dead.
Some people leave bread, water and a lighted lamp on the table before going to bed. It was believed that these would welcome the dead souls back to earth.
Pchum Ben is a 15-day religious festival during which many Cambodians pay their respects to dead relatives. It also features popular buffalo races.
During a festival known as Teng Chieh, food and water are placed in front of photographs of family members who have died. Bonfires and lanterns are lit in order to light the paths of the spirits as they travel the earth. Paper boats are burned in order to free the spirits of those who died as a result of an accident or drowning and whose bodies were never buried.
In Czechia, chairs are placed by the fireside, one for each living member of the family and one for each member’s spirit.
People in scary costumes (such as mummies, ghosts, witches or vampires) go to parties at friends’ homes or clubs. Stores, malls and homes decorate their windows; pastry and candy shops make special desserts and sweets.
However, Halloween is still rather controversial, due to the perception of corporate and foreign culture influence.
Knives are put away on Halloween night. People do not want to risk harm to or from the returning spirits.
Fed Gede is the Festival of the Ancestors. It includes voodoo ceremonies, lighting candles for the dead, and drinking chili rum. People dress up in costume, dance in the streets, and visit graveyards to offer gifts to their dead loved ones.
Yue Lan, the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, is a time when it is believed that spirits roam the world. Some people burn pictures of fruit or money so as to bring comfort to the ghosts. Fires are lit and food and gifts are offered to placate angry ghosts who might be looking for revenge.
Pitru Paksha is a Hindu tradition where souls are believed to return for a short time. Fire rituals and offerings will hopefully prevent them from wandering the Earth forever.
Ognissanti (All Saints’ Day) and Tutti I Morti (All Souls’ Day), take place on November 1st and 2nd, respectively, just like in many Catholic regions around the world. People pay their respects to their deceased family and Friends.
The Japanese celebrate the Obon Festival, which is dedicated to the spirits of ancestors. Special foods are prepared and bright red lanterns are hung everywhere. A fire is lit every night in order to show the ancestors where their families can be found. Pathways from graveyards to homes are swept clean, and a general house-cleaning is also carried out. This is celebrated in the summer and includes dances and food offerings.
Halloween is also getting more popular each year. Creepy costumes are common. For instance, thousands of people take part in the Kawasaki Halloween Parade, in Tokyo. There are strict dressing guidelines and participation requires registration over 2 months in advance.
Families pay respect to their ancestors during the Chusok festival, which is held in August. They visit their tombs and make offerings of rice and fruits.
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), is a celebration lasting from October 31st to November 2nd. It is believed that the souls of the dead return to Earth during this time. People make offerings at private altars covered in food and drinks. The souls of the children receive toys and candy, while the adults are usually treated to spirits and cigarettes. It is a happy holiday which includes lots of food and drinks, dancing, burning incense, lighting candles, having picnics in graveyards and sharing stories.
Gai Jatra, which takes place in August, is also known as the Festival of Cows. The Nepalese believe that leading a cow through the streets will help the dead make it to heaven. If you don’t have a cow, you’re allowed to dress a child up as one instead.
The Awuru Odo Festival, which commemorates the return of the dead to the land of the living, takes place every two years and can last as long as six months. It is part of the Igbo traditions and involves masks and live music.
Pangangaluluwâ is similar to Halloween, except the children have to sing songs to get their candy.
Alla Helgons Dag, which is similar to Halloween, is celebrated from October 31 to November 6.
Halloween is a big deal. There’s costumes, door-to-door trick-or-treating or parties for adults. But also activities including carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples and watching horror movies.
Happy English learning!!