Halloween is one of the world’s oldest holidays and is still celebrated around the globe. With October 31st just around the corner, we’ve decided to get in the spirit by exploring how different cultures around the world celebrate all things spooky.
Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. During the three day festival people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. Children dress up in fun costumes to spend the evening trick-or-treating in their neighborhoods and attend parties where they bob for apples and go on treasure hunts. Families end the night together with a traditional Halloween meal that includes Barmbrack, a type of fruitcake, and Colcannon, a mashed potatoes dish with cabbage and kale.
Dia de los Muertos
Probably the best-known Halloween celebration outside of the US, Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is observed throughout Mexico and parts of Central and South America. Friends and family come together to remember and celebrate the deceased, often building alters and leaving candles, flowers and skull shaped sweets. Despite the ominous name, Dia de los Muertos is not a sad colcannon by any means; the three-day ceremony is rooted in tremendous pride. Those who observe the holiday create the most welcoming, enjoyable atmosphere possible for their departed loved ones to reassure them they will never be forgotten.
Before the Protestant Reformation, English children celebrated Halloween by carving “punkies” and carrying them through town while they sang and asked for money. Now our friends across the pond spend October 31st – November 5th watching fireworks and commemorating the infamous British traitor Guy Fawkes, by lighting bonfires.
Taiwan’s Ghost Month
The seventh month of Taiwan’s lunar calendar is known as the “Ghost Month”. The origins of Ghost Month stem from Taiwanese beliefs about the afterlife and the large role ancestral veneration plays in East Asian religions. Ghost Month participants believe that a person’s spirit continues to exist after the death of the physical body. It is believed that these spirits are capable of affecting the lives of the living and need convincing to act benevolently.
Consequently, Ghost Month is full of various festivals, rituals, and banquets to appease the potentially malevolent spirits of the dead. For example, during the “Grappling with Ghosts” event, teams of young men go through a series of obstacles to be the first to cut down a flag thought to protect their loved ones for another year. Also, essentially any activity involving water, from swimming to handling wet clothes, is avoided because water is believed to be a “yin” element meaning spirits are attracted to it.