It is easy to find the beauty that ties together all of the different Halloween traditions around the world. Some countries take their own unique spin on this typically American holiday. Others celebrate the spiritual afterlife with age-old practices unique to their culture and religions. What unites these different variations of Halloween is the celebration of life and loved ones.
Read on to take a closer look at the question: how is Halloween celebrated around the world?
One of the most interesting Halloween traditions around the world is practised in Ireland. In fact, Halloween originated from Samhain or “All Hallowtide”, a pagan Irish festival that marks the end of summer. A long-held Halloween custom is the baking and eating of Barmbrack, a dense cake loaded with currants, raisins and candied citrus. It is tradition for bakers at Halloween to mix a ring, small rag and a coin into a Barmbrack. Each token signifies a particular fortune for whoever receives it in their piece of cake. Whoever gets the ring will marry or find happiness, whoever gets the rag will join the clergy or have an uncertain financial future, and whoever receives the coin will have a prosperous year.
Teng Chieh: China
The Teng Chieh, or Hungry Ghost Festival, in China is not strictly a Halloween custom. Rather, it is an old Daoist tradition that guides the spirits that walk the earth. On the 15th day of the 7th lunar month (Ghost Month), at dusk, people lay out incense, food and water in front of photos of deceased family members. The spirits might then bestow blessings or punishments upon their living relatives. Many see this tradition as a way of appeasing the hungry ghosts who have been errant since the beginning of Ghost Month. Later that same night, a feast is typically held where families leave an open setting at the table for a departed ancestor.
Día de Los Muertos: Mexico
The Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, in Mexico is a culturally rich tradition akin to Halloween that takes place on November 1 and 2. Despite the name, the Day of the Dead is all about celebrating life, joy and colour. Its essence is to demonstrate love and respect for the spirits of departed family members.
Similar to other Halloween traditions around the world, Day of the Dead celebrations include activities like dressing in bright makeup and dazzling costumes, throwing parades, singing and dancing. However, what marks this holiday as especially unique is the custom of making offerings to loved ones. Families build temporary altars as a tribute to deceased ancestors. The altars are laid with confections like sugar skulls and bottles of tequila, as well as marigolds and photographs of the lost. It is said that these offerings will attract the spirits to the altars to be reunited with the living family.
La Festa di Ognissanti: Italy
Halloween customs are rooted in ancient traditions like La Festa di Ognissanti, or Hallowmas, in Italy. November 1 is All Saints Day, the first day of Hallowmas, which celebrates the Catholic saints. On this holiday, Italians will spend time with their families and even exchange gifts. November 2 is All Souls Day, a commemoration of deceased loved ones. Families will leave chrysanthemums on loved ones’ graves, attend a requiem mass for the dead, and eat lots of food. It is believed that spirits share in the celebrations. Hence, cookies called Fave dei morti, or beans of the dead, are offered to the deceased. In ancient Rome, beans were used in funerary rites because it was believed that they housed the souls of the dead.
Explore Italian culture with Trafalgar on the Best of Italy and Sicily tour.
Fet Gede: Haiti
Fet Gede, or the Festival of the Dead, has all the verve of Halloween tradition, but with a completely different cultural backdrop. On November 1 and 2, Haitian practitioners of Voodoo, Vodouisants, pay their respects to Baron Samedi, father of the deceased spirits. Vodouisants dance in the streets to commune with their dead and walk through graveyards where they ‘feed’ their ancestors with food from their own table. Fet Gede is occasionally described as the Voodoo equivalent of Mardi Gras, Día de Los Muertos, and Halloween because of its explosive celebratory atmosphere, vibrant cultural traditions and commemoration of deceased family.
La Toussaint: France
How is Halloween celebrated in France? To be blunt, it’s not celebrated so much as tolerated. In France, Halloween is often outshone by La Toussaint, All Saints Day, on November 1. The French reserve little fanfare for Halloween as it is seen as an imported American tradition. The few Halloween costumes seen on the 31st are generally terrifying. All Saints Day, however, is a national public holiday following Halloween. On this day, the French visit special church services and cemeteries to lay flowers on deceased relatives’ graves.
Hallowmas Eve: Hong Kong
Hong Kong has gradually begun to embrace Halloween, despite its colonialist origins. For the whole American Halloween experience, Halloween Time in Hong Kong Disneyland is the place to go. The event includes an interactive performance by Disney Villains, who sing original songs crafted for the performance. For Halloween with local flavour, visit Hong Kong’s largest theme park, Ocean Park Hong Kong. This oceanarium and zoological attraction holds Asia’s biggest Halloween celebrations. The night’s roster of events includes haunted houses, street shows with gory costumes, and other Halloween-themed entertainment.
See the highlights of Hong Kong with Trafalgar on the Hong Kong and Macau Experience tour.
Halloween in Japan has taken on a life of its own since it was first celebrated at Tokyo Disneyland in 2000. The Japanese place little importance on American Halloween traditions like trick-or-treating. Where Americans might wear basic costumes from a party store, the Japanese will go all out with quality cosplay (costume play) that range from cute to terrifying. In Japan, Halloween celebrations burst out onto the streets in manic zombie runs, flash mobs, and street parties. The most singular of all the festivities are the Halloween trains. On October 31, the clinical tranquillity of Japan’s trains is transformed into a frenetic Halloween bash.
Sint-Maarten: the Netherlands
Halloween in The Netherlands is a small affair, seen as evidence of Americanisation and commercialism rather than as a cultural institution. Despite this, shades of Halloween can be seen in the wild parties dotted around Amsterdam. However, on November 11, the Dutch hold Sint-Maarten, a children’s feast day that resembles American Halloween yet is more widely practised. On the evening of the 11th, children can be spotted on the streets, not unlike trick-or-treaters. The children typically carry lanterns that resemble sugar beet or turnips, reminiscent of the American jack o’lantern. As they wander the streets, the children will knock on doors and sing songs to their neighbours in the hope of receiving candies.
Discover The Netherlands with Trafalgar on the Best of Holland tour.
Dia das Bruxas: Portugal
Dia das Bruxas, or Day of the Witches, is the equivalent of Halloween in Portugal. The holiday shares many of its traditional roots with Halloween. Trick-or-treating is a staple of Dia das Bruxas, but children ask for bread, fruits, or nuts instead of candy. Families also visit the graves of deceased relatives on the Day of the Witches. They adorn the graves with flowers and candles to honour their ancestors.
Which incredible Halloween tradition from around the world is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below! Or, if you’re still looking for inspiration, head to our website to discover more Halloween destinations when you travel with Trafalgar!