The spooky season, Halloween around the world, is almost upon us and whether you mark your Halloween by carving pumpkins, watching a scary movie, or partying with friends, this frightful festival is one of the highlights of the year.
Whilst modern-day Halloween is more associated with candy, costumes and pumpkins, it is an ancient tradition, based on the belief that All Hallows Eve is the night when the veil between the living and the dead is lifted and the spirits roam amongst us.
As one of the world’s oldest holidays, Halloween around the world is a western festival that stems from ancient rituals and pagan influence. It is now celebrated around the world, and many countries have adopted Halloween traditions or have frightening festivals that have some spooky similarities.
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The Celtic Countries
Halloween is thought to have originated in Ireland as part of the Celtic festival Samhain, pronounced Sow-in. This was a day that marked the end of harvest and the start of the winter months; commemorating the start of the Celtic New Year on November 1st. Outlander fans will be aware that this holiday is associated with old magic and folklore. Hundreds of years ago, across Ireland, the UK, and northern France, pagans prepared for the night when spirits are able to enter the living world.
The blurring of boundaries between worlds naturally brought with it ideas of magic. Fortune telling games are still played today in the form of ‘fortune telling cabbage’ for instance, remnants of a more magical time. It’s likely that magic was used in an attempt to appease the evil spirits and demons that were thought to walk amongst the living on this all fated night.
Whilst many of us are big fans of Halloween, the holiday is relatively new in the States. It was brought over from Catholic Europe by Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 19th Century. Whether it is a family day out to a pumpkin patch, carving jack-o-lanterns or trick or treating, there is so much to see and do!
Now second only to Christmas, Halloween in North America is predominantly secular and promises to be more fun rather than frightening! Many Americans choose to decorate their homes and wear costumes for this horrifying holiday.
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Originating thousands of years ago amongst Aztec culture, Día de Muertos is a celebration to honor loved ones and ancestors that have passed onto the other side.
The festival is premised on the belief that the Gates of Heaven open at midnight on October 31, when the lost souls of children can be reunited with their families on earth. Then on the 2nd of November, it is believed that our departed adults join us for this celebration of death. To honor those that have passed over, ofrendas or altars, are created, food is offered and candles and incense burned to aid family members in finding their way home.
In some parts of the Philippines, children celebrate Pangagaluluwa on the 1st November. Children and young people roam the neighborhood, offering songs in exchange for food, candy, or money. A practice not in any way related to but slightly reminiscent of trick or treating, the songs are supposed to aid deceased family members in their journey to the other side.
Now not as popular as it once was, Pangagaluluwa is a tradition that has continued in the provinces and rural areas. The modern-day practice of this centuries-old superstition is now more similar to Western trick or treating, with children often choosing to dress up in scary costumes for their musical journey around the neighborhood.
Phchum Ben is a 15 day religious festival in Cambodia that also celebrates the afterlife. The word Ben means to collect and Phchum means to congregate and this festival is seen as a time when families get together to remember and celebrate their loved ones. Food is provided for the wandering spirits, with sweet sticky rice being particularly popular. Visiting temples and pagodas to pay respect to their ancestors and spending time with elderly family members, this is one of the most important events in the Cambodian calendar.
Guatemalans also celebrate the Day of the Dead, but in some parts of the country, they do it in a very unique way, with parades and kites containing messages for those that are deceased. The giant beautifully colored and intricate kites are often more than 40 feet wide and just as high, and it is believed that the higher they fly, the closer the messages get to reaching the dead. The 3000-year-old Mayan tradition is a truly impressive spectacle to behold!
With Count Dracula being based on the gruesome tales told about Vlad ‘the Impaler’ Tepes, Bran Castle in Transylvania provides an excellent setting for All Hallows Eve. The castle inspired Bram Stoker’s bloodthirsty tales and it is rumored to be haunted with the spirits of those tormented by the Voivode of Wallachia. However, although there are parties and events, Halloween on the 31st October is not traditionally celebrated in Romania. Instead, similarly spooky festivities lie on the eve of St Andrews. On the 29th of November, it is believed that wolves gather around and the spirits come to surface. It is also thought to be an auspicious night that is particularly well-suited for spells and magic.
In China, Halloween is not really celebrated by most people, except by expats and English teachers from Western countries. However, they do have several traditional days of the dead that have some similarities to our favorite festival, including the Hungry Ghost Festival, the Qing Ming Festival, the Double 9th Festival, and the Spring Festival. Plus, the seventh month of the China lunar calendar is ghost month, when the dead are supposed to get a break from hell to come and visit. Such festivals of the dead in China are hundreds of years old, and many people believe that precautions from evil spirits need to be taken as well as honoring loved ones that have passed.
Ready for your own spooky Halloween party?
If you are ready to take off but you’re lacking party ideas here are 5 gory Halloween activity ideas for your perfect horror night.