Sometimes we get so caught up in the traditions of a holiday that it’s easy to forget where it all began or why we are even celebrating. After spending four months in Japan, I was reminded that not all countries and religions celebrate all holidays. I was shocked to find that Japan only started celebrating Halloween in the past few years (mostly as a result of American pop culture being brought to Japan). So, how does the rest of the world celebrate Halloween?
History of Halloween
Halloween is believed to have originated in the Celtic countries, with the festival of Samhain. They believed that on this day, the line between the living and the dead blurred and the ghosts of the dead would return to Earth. After Christianity spread through Europe, All Saints Day was established, which was also called All-hallows. The night before All-hallows, the traditional day of Samhain, was referred to as All-Hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.
Halloween has evolved a lot since then, but many countries have adopted similar Halloween traditions such as dressing up in costumes. Other countries have their own holidays for remembering the dead.
Halloween is most popular in North America and is usually celebrated on October 31st. However, if Halloween happens to fall on a weekday, many people will choose to celebrate it the weekend before.
These days, Halloween isn’t seen much as a day of remembering the dead, but it is associated with ghosts and all sorts of other spooky creatures.
For Halloween, some people buy all sorts of Halloween decorations for their homes: spiders, ghosts, monsters, skeletons, witches, and more. Kids dress up in costumes and go from door to door in their neighborhood, asking for candy. Some organizations will even have sponsored events where people come dressed up and participate in events such as costume contents. Many family and friends will host Halloween parties and have food that is all Halloween themed.
All Saints Day and All Souls Day
As mentioned above, All Saints Day and All Souls Day are Christian (usually Catholic) holidays, celebrated on November 1st and November 2nd, respectively. All Saints Day celebrates all of those who have entered Heaven, but tends to focus particularly on those who have been canonized by the church as Saints. All Souls Day honors the dead. People pray for the souls in purgatory (a place where souls are cleansed before passing on into Heaven).
Día de los Muertos: Day of the Dead
Mexico and other countries celebrate Día de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead” on November 2nd. It celebrates that departed loved ones come back for one day out of the year. Many people will build small alters in their homes to honor the dead or leave gifts at their graves. Some people will even gather in the cemetery to hold by the grave sides of their loved ones to hold their celebration.
While Japan has started to adopt the more Western style of Halloween with costumes and parties, it also has its own holiday to remember the dead. Obon is a three day festival where they honor the spirit’s of their ancestors by visiting and cleaning their graves. It is very similar to Day of the Dead in that the Japanese believe Obon is a time when ancestors return to visit their relatives. The start date of Obon differs across the country, but is usually towards the end of summer.
Celebrated in China, Teng Chieh marks the end of the Chinese New Year. Similar to Day of the Dead and Obon, it celebrates the return of the spirits. It is celebrated by offering traditional food and other items to their ancestors. Lanterns and other lights are hung or put on water to help guide the spirits.
St. Martin’s Day
St. Martin’s Day is primarily celebrated in Europe around November 11th. It celebrates Saint Martin of Tours, the patron of the poor. In the Netherlands, the children celebrate St. Martin’s Day by going door to door with hand crafted lanterns and sing songs in hopes of receiving candy in return.
Celebrated in Denmark on the Sunday or Monday before Ash Wednesday, it is similar to halloween in that many people go door to door dressed in costumes. Another popular tradition of Fastelavn is to paint a black car on a barrel and then hit it with a stick. Once the barrel breaks, candy comes spilling out.
How do you celebrate Halloween? Feel free to let me know in the comments below!
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