Halloween and Other Spooky Festivals Around the World
Halloween is, of course, huge in America. It’s traditions are derived from the pagan harvest festival of Samhain and the Christian All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2). People all over the globe have put their own spin on things for celebrations at the end of October and beginning of November. And while dates and traditions are different, most cultures have some sort of festival honoring their ancestors.
Still celebrated in Gaelic Celtic areas such as Ireland, Scotland and other parts of the British Isles, Samhain marked the end of the growing season and the beginning of winter. It was thought that during this time, faeries and spirits could more easily cross from one realm of being to another. Bonfires representing the sun’s eventual triumph over darkness were and are still popular, and Halloween traditions such as bobbing for apples originated with Samhain, during which the dead are honored. Over time, pranksters started playing tricks and people began carving faces into turnips in some places and pumpkins in others.
Dia de Muertos
“The Day of the Dead” originated in central and southern Mexico and is celebrated throughout Latin America and in Los Angeles. It runs Oct. 31-Nov. 2 and blends Catholic and Aztec traditions, mixing pagan with Christian much like modern Samhain. Rather than being a solemn or scary occasion, despite the name and skull imagery, the festival features food, drink and dancing, all things the dead enjoyed while they were alive. Families visit their loved ones’ graves and leave offerings of marigolds and their favorite foods. Those with their faces decorated to resemble skeletons dance as a personification of the deceased who return to earth to party with their family and friends once more.
Day of Dracula
Romania has pretty much leaned into the whole Dracula thing, with Bran Castle hosts a Halloween party. Bram Stoker used a description of the castle to conjure up his vision of Vlad the Impaler’s abode, though Bran Castle was not a residence of the man who inspired the Dracula myth, and he might not have ever even visited. Still, it’s a castle on a hilltop in Transylvania that can look spooky at night and host a great party, which by this point in time is really what Halloween is all about. Plus, there are legends from nearby villages of evil spirits stalking the area in the night.
This Cambodian festival takes place in autumn, though before Halloween (dates rotate based on the Khmer calendar). It lasts 15 days, culminating in large public celebrations on Pchum Ben Day. While Buddhist monks chant a protective prayer all night, the ghosts of the dead are thought to emerge, and food offerings are set out to appease them during their temporary respite on earth. During the two weeks before, villagers cook food for the monks, who do not eat before noon. Similar hungry ghost festivals take place across Southeast Asia.
Observed on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month (sometime in February or March), Teng Chieh is another hungry ghost festival, this one in China. It too combines Buddhists and folk rituals. The ghosts in question did not receive the proper sendoff or tribute from their families, so the living offer food and drink along with burning paper symbols of the living world such as fake money, houses, cars and TVs. Lanterns float along rivers, guiding the ghosts back to the underworld, while many shops clothes, people eschew wearing red and people burn incense to steer clear of the ghosts as they pass through.
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