Halloween dates back centuries when it was widely celebrated in Celtic cultures such as Scotland and Ireland. It’s the evening before All Saints Day, when ghostly spirits come out to play. While the commercial way we mark Halloween today doesn’t bare much relevance to what is ultimately a Pagan tradition, it’s no doubt a popular holiday in the US with children trick or treating door-to-door and adults reveling in costume parties. However, certain other countries are home to some Halloween-like or autumnal traditions of their own.
1. The Day of the Dead, Mexico
Although not strictly a Halloween celebration, Mexico’s Day of the Dead occurs around the same time. It’s a public holiday where families pay their respects to deceased relatives and friends. It is characterized by elaborate costumes, feasts and decorations. The skull is the most prolific symbol of the holiday, and celebrants often don skeletal masks and makeup to mark the occasion. They gather in graveyards to eat, drink and remember their loved ones. It may sound rather morbid, but its an uplifting celebration that honors the dead and celebrates life.
2. Leaving Bread and Water Out, Austria
In Austria, celebrants traditionally leave out bread and water before going to bed on Halloween night. The reasoning behind the tradition is that it was believed bread and water would welcome the souls of the deceased back to Earth. Accompanying the food and water is usually a lantern that’s kept burning through the night. It’s certainly better for the teeth than bags full of candy!
3. Halloween Chairs, Czech Republic
Czech people also like to remember their dearly departed friends and family. When they gather around a bonfire, they set out chairs for the deceased, so they can join the fiery fun, too – at least in spirit. Prayers and memories are often shared during this celebration.
4. Festival of Hungry Ghosts, China
The Festival of Hungry Ghosts is not a Halloween celebration per se, and it occurs in August rather than October. However, the Ghost Festival is Asia’s nearest equivalent to Halloween. Similarly, the deceased are believed to visit the living on this day, and food and other offerings are set out during the yearly festival to welcome the dead back to Earth. Burning paper and other offerings is part of the tradition. The holiday traces its history back to Buddhist origins.
5. Hiding the Knives, Germany
All Saints Day, the Christian holiday now closely related to Halloween, takes place on November 1. In Germany, Catholic communities celebrate the festival from October 30 until November 8 and, during this time, families visit the graves of deceased loved ones to place flowers and say prayers. However, one of the more unusual traditions during this time is to hide all the knives in the kitchen, lest malevolent spirits attack the living with them.
6. Carving Turnips, UK
Although pumpkin carving has become a popular Halloween tradition in much of the Western World, pumpkins are a New-World vegetable and are not native to Europe. Although you’re more likely to see carved pumpkin Jack-o-Lanterns in the UK these days, turnips have been traditionally used since the late 18th century. It’s also possible to see a similar tradition in Ireland, with beets or mangelwurzel being popular alternatives. Whatever gourd, squash or root vegetable is used, it’s a fun tradition that often produces elaborate carvings.
7. Alla Helgons Dag, Sweden
Halloween was imported to Sweden from the US in the 1990s, and many of the fun American traditions came with it. The Scandinavians need something to celebrate as the long winter months engulf them. It’s known as Alla Helgons Dag here, and is celebrated from October 31 to November 6. It is becoming increasingly common for Swedish children to don costumes, carve pumpkins and have parties. Sadly, a macabre school incident occurred on October 22, 2015, where a costumed killer stabbed two teachers and two students with a sword. People thought it was just a Halloween prank, and some kids even posed for pictures with the masked man before realizing it wasn’t an act.
8. Lighting Bonfires, UK and Ireland
Bonfires have long been associated with Halloween in both the UK and Ireland and, in the case of the former, the celebration often coincides with Guy Fawkes Night on November 5. However, the sacred fires lit to celebrate Halloween were once believed to ward away unfriendly spirits, and the tradition traces its roots back to the ancient Celtic harvest celebration of Samhain.
9. Odo Festival, Nigeria
Nigeria has a biannual tradition to honor the dead that takes place from December to August. The Odo Festival is celebrated in the northern Igbo villages, and it is a three-stage production. The first stage is welcoming festivities to bring the odo (dead) back. The second stage is the interim months where families co-exist and interact with their deceased relatives. The third stage is the emotional saying of goodbyes, as the ancestors are not due to visit again for two years. Costumes and music are integral to the Odo Festival.
10. Barmbrack, Ireland
Barmbrack is a type of sweet snack bread containing sultanas, raisins and other dried fruit. It has long served as a centerpiece of Irish Halloween celebrations. Tracing its origins as a type of fortune-telling game, the various ingredients used in barmbrack determined a person’s future. For example, a small coin might be placed inside the loaf, and whoever receives it in their serving should be married within the year.