How to celebrate Halloween around the world

Phoebe Fielder takes us on a tour of weird and wacky Halloween celebrations across the world

Phoebe Fielder
31st October 2018
Image: Drew Hays

Halloween is one of the spookiest time in the year. However, it ranges according to which country you're in. In some countries, Halloween is celebrated through eating while others are through superstitious acts.

It only seems right to begin with the Scottish and Irish Halloween, considered to be the birthplaces of our modern version. ‘Samhain’ which is old Irish for ‘Summers end’ was celebrated with numerous cleansing rituals such as offering of food and drink to naughty spirits, so they wouldn’t take cattle or ruin crop.

Throughout Britain and Ireland festivities such as games, divinations of death and marriage, apple bobbing, and pouring molten lead or egg whites into water, some of which we still partake in today! Bonfires would be lit, as they still are now, but they had a more symbolic meaning to the Celts, representing the sun rising again, and repressing the deadly winter.

[pullquote]Germany has an interesting and somewhat haunting tradition of hiding their kitchen knives[/pullquote]

In Wales these fires were lit specifically to save souls from the devil. The tradition of carving a pumpkin is also derived from the Celts, but the more local vegetation such as turnips and were used instead. In Scotland and Ireland, Halloween was a time to tell the future. Scotland’s divination method was to peel the skin off an apple, then to take that skin and throw it over your shoulder. The peel was supposed to land and spell out the name of your future lover. Ireland did this through a cloth wrapped fruit cake, an item would be put in the cake and depending on what you got it would predict one of three things. A ring would indicate marriage, a coin wealth, and a thimble meant you were doomed to never marry, the cake was called ‘barmbrack’.

Of course, we all know about Mexico’s ‘El Dia de los Muertos’ a three-day celebration which honours dead loved ones.  The activities of this day are well demonstrated in the Disney movie ‘Coco’ in which a young boy gets stuck in between the dead and living and uses this night in which the dead visit the living to have a fabulous adventure in the land of the dead. The movie demonstrated the importance of family for this tradition, they would build an enormous alter to their dead relatives, sprinkled with flowers and candles, as well as the later activities of gathering at relative’s graves and partaking in a picnic.  
‘Spector’ the Bond film famously demonstrated the wonderful and wacky parades which are crammed full of colour, a lot of dancers who partake in the parade dress as skeletons entwined with brightly coloured flowers. These parades are very visually stimulating and probably the reason for this particular tradition world- wide fame and imitation in other cultures.

In parts of East Asia, they celebrate the ‘Hungry Ghost Festival’ on August 17th. Enormously elaborate meals are prepared to feed the hungry spirits visiting the earthly realm. Studio Gibli’s ‘Spirited Away’ may give you an idea of this tradition, as it begins with a family stumbling upon huge amounts of sumptuous prepared food laid out for the spirits to eat.

‘All Saints Day’ (no not the shop) is celebrated by Roman Catholics, it takes place on November the 1st and as is obviously stated by the name, celebrates the Saints who died for their Catholic beliefs, the days activities include attending mass and lighting candles.

Germany has an interesting and somewhat haunting tradition of hiding their kitchen knives, this supposedly stops the returning dead harming themselves. . . or someone else.


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