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Spooky Traditions from Around the World

27 October 2021 · Bernadette Cunningham

Graphic for spooky traditions from around the world

In the UK, we celebrate Halloween each year with pumpkins, cobwebs, costumes and eating too many sweets! But how do other countries and cultures celebrate this day and is it always spooky?

What is Halloween?

You’ll probably already be aware that Halloween (aka All Hallow’s Eve) actually marks the start of Hallowtide. But did you know that All Hallows’s Feast, and in turn Halloween, was originally celebrated in May and was moved to Autumn in the 8th Century?!

Hallowtide is made up of All Hallows’ Eve (31st of October), All Hallows’ Day (1st of November) and All Souls’ Day (2nd of November) and is dedicated to remembering the dead, or more specifically in Christianity, those that died for their beliefs.

Whilst not everywhere in the world celebrates Halloween, communities in every part of the world have their own ways of paying their respects to the deceased…

Latin America:

In Mexico and other Latin American countries, the Day of the Dead (Día de Los Muertos) is celebrated over a series of days. The first day is dedicated to deceased children, known as Angelitos (little angels). The second day is Day of the Dead proper. Temporary altars are built in homes as tributes to the departed and adorned with sweets, skulls made of sugar, toys, and objects of significance to the dead and their loved ones. Tequila and liquor are laid out for the adults along with marigold flowers which are said to attract the spirits to their offerings.

If you happen to be around for Dia de los Muertos, you’ll see Calacas – colourfully dressed comical skeletons and skeleton masks. People also eat the terrifyingly named pan de Muerto or “bread of the dead”!

Traditions across Asia:

In China, there is an equivalent to Halloween, called Teng Chieh “Ghost Festival”. This celebration takes place on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. Food and water are placed in front of photographs of family members who have departed. Lanterns are also lit, to guide the spirits wandering the earth.

The Filipino equivalent to Halloween is known as Pangangaluluwa. It involves groups of people going house to house after visiting the graves of loved ones. They sing songs and ask for prayers and donations for the local church.

Spooky celebrations across Europe:

In Austria, Seleenwoche, or All Souls’ Week takes place between 30th of October and 8th of November. On the night of the 31st of October, people leave bread and water out on a table then light a lamp to welcome and nourish the souls of the dead.

Dušičky, or Day of the Dead is observed on 2nd of November in the Czech Republic, where people place chairs around the fireplace: One for each living family member and one for each departed one. Families also visit graves and adorn them with flowers and candles.

Italy celebrates All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day by offering cookies to their dearly departed called Fave dei Morti or Beans of the Dead. This is because in ancient Rome it was thought that the souls of the dead lived on beans. Beans were also used in funeral rites.

In Poland, Zaduszki (All Souls’ Day) sees relatives gather around graves of family members and light candles while in Germany, people will hide their knives so that returning souls don’t accidentally cut themselves.

Día das Bruxas, or Day of Witches takes place in Portugal, and, like in the UK and North America, children go trick or treating, but instead of asking for sweets, they ask for bread.

Fortune-telling in Ireland:

In Ireland, bakers traditionally hide a ring, a piece of cloth, and a stick inside a speckled loaf, made with raisins, currants, and candied citrus peel, known as barmbrack. When the loaf is served, it is said that whoever get the ring will marry soon, whoever finds the piece of cloth would enter the clergy, and whoever got the stick would remain single forever!

Festivals and dancing in Africa:

The Engungun Festival is a celebration among the Yoruba people in Nigeria which, whilst it starts around the same time as Halloween, actually ends in April!

The Festival celebrates life as well as recognising the importance of people who have passed away in the preceding year and is marked by elaborate costumes and masks worn by dancers accompanied by drummers.

Middle East:

Middle Eastern Christians in Libya, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and parts of Turkey celebrate Eid-Il Burbara at the beginning of December. It is a celebration of Saint Barbara who disguised herself to escape the persecution of the Romans. Pumpkins and other Halloween decorations can be seen, showing similar elements to common Western Halloween celebrations.

Children also go trick or treating, and sing a special song for Eid- Il Burbara.