Alternative Halloween Traditions Around The World
In our previous blog post “Why Do We Celebrate Halloween” we mentioned the introduction of All Souls Day or Allhallows. So we took this idea and researched who else celebrates the dead around Halloween. Here’s a list of various Halloween style celebrations:
Festival: Day Of The Dead
Location: Mexico (although other places are beginning to celebrate it e.g. New York)
What Happens: Several thousand years ago, the people who inhabited Mexico considered it disrespectful to mourn the dead as they were still considered members of the community, and so during Dia De Los Muertos, the dead were said to temporarily return to Earth and this was celebrated.
To celebrate life and to show love and respect for deceased family members, an Ofrenda (altar) is usually built in private homes and cemeteries which is the centrepiece of the celebration.
These altars welcome spirits back into the realm of the living and many offerings such as; water, food, family photos, toys and candles are left to greet them.
Marigolds also decorate the altar and the petals are scattered from the altar to the graves to guide wandering spirits back to their resting place.
Copal incense transmits prayers and purifies the area around the altar.
Literary calaveras (short, witty poems that poke fun at the living) are popular at the time of the celebration, being printed, read, and even broadcast on TV.
The most famous symbol of the festival is the Calavera Cantrina (or elegant skull) came from an illustration that accompanied one of these poems.
Sugar skulls are also very common which are inspired by this symbol, they’re decorated with bright colours and come in many different sizes and levels of complexity, and are often left as offerings for the dead.
Pan de muerto (bread of the dead) is a sweet bread with anise seeds and dough decorations of the bones, skulls and tear drops, which is another food offering.
Drinks may also be left as offerings like pulque (sweet fermented agave sap), atole (thin warm porridge), and hot chocolate,
Many people dress in fancy dress clothes with artful skull-painted faces and parade the streets.
Papel Picardo (pierced paper) is a popular decoration on altars and in the streets.
In Patzcuaro, indigenous people from the countryside, canoe with a single candle in each boat, over to a small island called Janitzio for an all-night ceremony.
In Mixquic, community members bare candles and flowers and proceed to clean and decorate the graves of their lost loved ones.
In Tuxtepec, locals arrange coloured sawdust and flowers in elaborate patterns on the city streets (these often take days to create) which are then judged in a contest.
Aguascalientes has a nearly week long celebration that is calls Festival de Calaveras (Festival of Skulls) which ends with a grand parade of skulls along Avenida Madero
When: 2nd November
Festival Name: Day Of Dracula
Location: Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania
What Happens: People go to the supposed house of Vlad The Impaler and can participate in tours around the castle as well as parties held at the castle
When: 31st October
Festival Name: Awuru Odo Festival
What Happens: There are feasts, music and people wear masks to celebrate the return of the souls of the dead to the land of the living
When: Every two years and the festival period lasts for 6 months
By ProjectManhattan. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34913467
Festival Name: The Hungry Ghost Festival
Location: Hong Kong
What Happens: The belief is that spirits get restless around this time of the year and a way to “feed” the spirits is with money and food that they may need in the afterlife.
Food is often left out to the feed the spirits. Fake money and other offerings are also burnt in fires to send them to ancestors in the afterlife.
People put on performances to pay tribute to these spirits usually on temporary bamboo stages.
When: 15th Day of the 7th Lunar Month (so mid August – mid September)
Festival Name: Pitru Paksha (Hindu Festival)
What Happens: The belief is that the souls of the dead briefly return to the Earth to spend time with their families. If the ritual, Shraddha, is not performed then the souls will be stuck wandering the Earth for eternity.
The ritual Shraddha is performed during the festival which involves a fire ritual. Food offerings are made by families to the dead, with things such as rice, lentils, kheer (sweet rice & milk), lapsi (sweet porridge), spring beans and pumpkins. These are cooked in silver or copper pots and served on banana leaves.
When: Second Paksha of the Hindu lunar month of Bhadrapada (16 days from 13th Sept – 28th September)
By Władysław Podkowiński – www.artinfo.pl, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52987276
Festival Name: Dzien Zaduszny (Equivalent to All Souls’ Day)
What Happens: People go to visit the graves of their relatives and celebrate the holiday by leaving candles and flowers. They also offer prayers for the departed souls.
The following day most people attend a requiem mass for the souls of the dead
When: Early November
Festival Name: Pchum Ben (Buddhist Festival)
What Happens: To celebrate the dead and the elderly people make offerings of flower baskets and sweet sticky rice and beans wrapped in banana leaves. The offerings are left at temples to pay respect to dead ancestors.
When: End Sept – Mid Oct
By Danny Choo from Tokyo, Japan – Kawasaki Halloween, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17313969
Festival Name: Kawasaki Halloween Parade
Location: Kawasaki (just outside Tokyo), Japan
What Happens: To celebrate Halloween there is a big costume parade through the streets. Loud music plays the whole time so people will dance as they go. Most of the costumes are cosplay rather than the traditional scary costumes.
Anyone is allowed to watch but to participate in the actual parade, people have to apply and pay a fee before being allowed to join.
In most other regions of Japan (especially Tokyo) Halloween is only celebrated by young adults who take the opportunity to dress more risque and party.
When: October 31st
Festival Name: Pangangaluluwa
What Happens: Mostly celebrated by children, the tradition is for them to dress up and go door to door singing, and asking for prayers for those stuck in purgatory. Residents can donate cash to the children who use this to raise funds for local events like the Belen festival in December, as well as tourist projects.
It has largely been replaced by trick-or-treating but some communities are working to bring back this more traditional celebration.
The costumes that the children dress up in are typically Halloween costumes such as ghosts, zombies and devils.
When: October 31st
What Happens: An alternative to All Souls’ Day, this festival pays respect to the dead.
People leave fresh flowers (usually Chrysanthemums) on the graves of loved ones and strangers to pay their respects. A red candle is placed on the window to pay tribute to the departed, and a place at the dinner table is set in the hopes that the spirits may visit
When: November 1st
Our research was helped by the following web pages: