As our ghosts & goblins prepare for an evening of trick or treating & carving pumpkins, here are some fantastic traditions from around the world!
While North American style Halloween is not always celebrated around the world, there is a common theme among many countries. A festival like celebration honors those who have passed on. In Austria a table lamp is lit in the evening to help light the way for spirits. In Belgium a candle is lighted in memory of relatives that have died. Food is often placed in front of family photos or where loved ones may be buried. In Poland, doors & windows may be left open to welcome in spirits on Halloween night.
Ever wonder where some of our favorite traditions originated? Here’s a couple of them!
Carving a Jack O’Lantern:
- One of the most recognizable symbols of Halloween is the grinning face of a carved pumpkin. But while faces cut into hallowed-out pumpkins are common in the United States and Canada, in other parts of the world Jack O’lanterns look a little different. The Scottish carve their scary faces into turnips, ruttabagas, and potatoes. These have lighted candles placed within their hallowed-out heads. The English carve beet roots to carry through the streets while singing and asking for money. They also create lanterns out of turnips and leave them atop gateposts.
Why do we go Trick -or-Treating?
- Based on the legend that if you don’t give spirits treats on Halloween night they will play tricks on you, trick-or-treating takes place in many countries across the world. In Ireland, where Halloween is said to have begun, it is done in much the same manner as in Canada and the United States. Children dress in costumes and go door-to-door asking their neighbors for treats. English children have begun in recent years to follow this tradition as well, though older British adults do not recognize it well enough to always distribute candy. In Mexico, during El Dia de los Muertos, children parade through the streets asking for coins and candy, which comes in the shapes of coffins and skulls and crossbones.
So now that we’ve covered the basics, here’s some of the other traditions from around the world! We picked some of the most interesting ones!
Austria: Some people will leave bread, water & a lighted lamp on the table on Halloween night to welcome the dead souls back to earth on a night that some Austrians consider magical.
Belgium: Belgians believe it is unlucky for a black cat to cross one’s path, enter a home or travel on a ship. On Halloween night, Belgians light candles in memory of deceased relatives.
China: The Halloween festival is known as Teng Chieh. Food & water is placed in front of photos of relatives who have departed while bonfires & lanterns are lit in order to light the paths of the spirits as they travel the Earth on Halloween night. Buddhist temple worshippers fashion “boats of the law” from paper, which are then burned as a remembrance of the dead & in order to free the spirits of those who died in an accident or drowning & consequently were never buried.
United Kingdom: (This is a biggie & a personal favorite) While the Irish and Scots preferred turnips, English children made “punkies” out of large beets (which they call beetroots), upon which they carved a design of their choice. Then, they would carry their “punkies” through the streets while singing the “Punkie Night Song” as they knocked on doors and asked for money. Halloween became Guy Fawkes Night and moved a few days later (Nov.5th) but recently it has been celebrated on October 31, in addition to Guy Fawkes Night. In some rural areas, turnip lanterns were placed on gateposts to protect homes from the spirits who roamed on Halloween night. Another custom was to toss objects such as stones, vegetables and nuts into a bonfire to frighten away the spirits. These symbolic sacrifices were also used as fortune-telling tools. If a pebble thrown into the flames at night was no longer visible in the morning, then it was believed that the person who tossed the pebble would not survive another year. If nuts tossed into the fire by young lovers then exploded, it signified a quarrelsome marriage. Of course now, we have to include a little history about Guy Fawkes Day – On the evening of November 5, bonfires are lit throughout England. Effigies are burned and fireworks are set off. Although it falls around the same time and has some similar traditions, this celebration has little to do with Halloween or the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The English, for the most part, stopped celebrating Halloween as Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation began to spread. It was on Halloween in 1517 that Martin Luther began to try to reform the Catholic Church. It ended in the formation of the Protestant Church, which didn’t believe in saints. So they had no reason to celebrate the eve of All Saints’ Day. However, a new autumn ritual did emerge. Guy Fawkes Day festivities were designed to commemorate the execution of a notorious English traitor, Guy Fawkes. Without Saints, there would be no All Hallow’s eve, no Halloween and no partying, so in Britain, when a a conspiracy to blow up the English Parliament and King James I in 1605 was foiled this became a convenient means to solve two issues at once. The celebrations that people were accustomed to just moved to November 5 and became Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes was not-too-bright accomplice who became the fall ‘guy” (his name is also where we get the word “guy” from) in a Catholic plot to blow up the English Parliament, which at that time was Protestant. So, although technically, the celebration was to commemorate the failure of the plot, nonetheless, it was Halloween. Bonfires were lit across the country. People made lanterns from carved out turnips and children went begging for “a penny for the guy” (and they were to use the pennies to buy more wood for the bonfire upon which Guy Fawkes was to be burned alive. gruesome, huh?
France: Halloween had never really been celebrated in France until about 1996. It had always been referred to as the American holiday. It is often viewed as controversial due to the perception of corporate and cultural influences. While many French have embraced decorating store windows, homes and enjoying costume parties, going to the pumpkin patch outside of Paris, pastries & special desserts, many do not encourage trick or treating or even want to “enjoy” this reason for a celebration.
Germany: This is the night to put your knives away, belief is that by putting them away, no harm with be done to or from returning spirits
Sweden: Here is celebrated “Alla Helgons Dag” and is celebrated from Oct. 31 – Nov. 6th. The Friday prior to All Saint’s Day is a short day for universities & school age children are given a day of vacation
In Hong Kong, a celebration know as “Yue Lan” (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) is a time when it is believed that spirits roam the world for 24 hrs, In Korea, “Chusok” is celebrated in August to pay respect to ancestors by visiting their tombs and bringing offerings of rice & fruits. Japanese also celebrate the spirit of their ancestor with the “Obon Festival” In Nigeria, every two years the Odo Festival is celebrated with musicians, food, costumes & masks. In Transylvania, Romania it is said that visitors can attend Halloween type parties that include “witch trials” getting fortunes told and watch as they try to make Vlad Tepes (the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula) appear!
Mexico has one the most famous celebrations, “El Dia de los Muertos” (the days of the dead) is a three-day celebration that begins on the evening of October 31 and culminates on November 2. This is an ancient festivity that has been transformed throughout the years. It was originally intended in prehistoric Mexico to celebrate children and the dead. Mexican families remember their dead and the continuity of life. It is a joyous and happy holiday…a time to remember friends and family who have died. Many families construct an altar in their home and decorate it with samples of the deceased’s favorite foods and drinks. Frequently, a basin and towel are left out in order that the spirit can wash prior to indulging in the feast. Candles are incense are burned to help the departed find his or her way home. On November 2, relatives gather at the gravesite to picnic and reminisce. Relatives also tidy the gravesites of deceased family members, including snipping weeds, making repairs and painting. The grave is then adorned with flowers, wreaths or paper streamers. They bring picnics and sit around the grave sites sharing stories of the departed and feasting on foods such as spicy meat dishes, batter bread and lots of sweets; some shaped like skulls. In the villages, parades are held. People dress as skeletons and dance in the streets. Often, a live person is placed inside a coffin which is then paraded through the streets while vendors toss fruit, flowers and candies into the casket. Home feast are held and loaves of bread, “Bread of the Dead” are given. Inside the loaves are sugar skeletons or other items of death motif. The families also attend candle lit ceremonies in church and offer prayers. The whole celebration is about life from beginning to end.
There are so many wonderful traditions around the world, take time to embrace your heritage, enjoy old traditions or start new ones!
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Happy Halloween from Par-T-Perfect!