9 Halloween Traditions From Around The World You Probably Didn't Even Realize Were A Thing
Regardless of whether you're a kid or an adult, it's pretty much an undeniable fact that Halloween is hands-down the best holiday ever. Sure, in more recent years, I may have traded in my pink Power Ranger costume for cat ears, trick-or-treating for costume keggers, and that annual month-long Disney Channel movie marathon for more mature horror flicks, but in general, I can't imagine celebrating this joyous occasion any other way. However, after I learned how Halloween traditions around the world differ from the American customs of dressing up, watching Hocus Pocus, and binging on candy bars, I reconsidered that maybe there are stories and rituals I've been missing out on all along.
Although Halloween is widely celebrated in the U.S., the holiday's religious background and lengthy, historic origins are rooted in Ireland from an ancient Celtic festival. The Celts also believed the night of Oct. 31 blurred the boundaries of the living and dead in the mortal world, and this is part of what sparked some of the earliest observances. As the first practices began, other parts of the globe followed along. In some countries, "All Hallow's Eve" or "All Saints' Day" is celebrated more to connect with the dead than for amusement, but every nation has a unique ritual. Here are nine ways Halloween is practiced around the world today.
To stay on the good side of the dark side, people in this country leave a light on all night, and they put bread and water out overnight to appease the strong cosmic energies and welcome spirits that may pass by.
As the birthplace of Halloween, Ireland may not practice the same pastimes as North America, but the holiday is just as popular. The Irish are known to carve turnip lanterns, play games with cards, hang apples, and play pranks on neighbors. Also unique to Ireland is the consumption of barnbrack, a fruitcake filled with muslin-wrapped treats that are believed to foreshadow marriage and prosperity.
Aside from attending church from Oct. 30 to Nov. 8 in honor of deceased saints, some people in Germany hide their knives — but not to protect themselves from the departed. Rather, they conceal their knives so that visiting spirits aren't potentially harmed by the movement of sharp objects.
Forget bobbing for hanging and floating apples. Peeling apples is all the rage in Scotland — but it's not just for fun. As a form of divination, Scots believe that if you peel an apple into one long strip and throw it behind your back, the shape it resembles when it lands will be the first letter of a future spouse's name.
During the rise of Protestantism, the English shied away from many UK Halloween traditions. There's an interesting history behind the development of England's Guy Fawkes traditions (on Nov. 5), but in general, during this time, the country is known to boast massive bonfires, carve beetroots called "punkies," and ask for money instead of candy when making rounds to the neighbors. The bonfires (originally symbolic, anti-Catholic "bone fires") were also a form of fortune telling. By throwing objects like stones and nuts into the fire, it was believed you could predict the thrower's fate of death and love.
For Mexicans and Spanish-speaking natives, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a holiday that commemorates departed souls, but the celebrations from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 are more ironically full of life. To honor deceased family members, festivities include hefty amounts of mariachi music, skull-shaped sweets, and tequila. A few other traditions are sprucing up gravesides, lighting candles to guide spirits, parading around in elaborate skeletal ensembles, and, on a more personal level, families will construct altars in their homes embellished with candy, photos, flowers, and the favorite foods and drinks of deceased relatives.
In Sweden, the weeklong celebration starting Oct. 31 is called Alla Helgons Dag, during which working people and university students have shorter work days, while younger children get a day of vacation. Westernized customs aren't common, but the Swedes sing songs about the forthcoming spring, and it has become increasingly popular for young adults to use their extra time off to party.
8. Hong Kong
Throughout China, people celebrate a festival called Teng Chieh, in which families present food and water in front of photographs of departed relatives, as well as light lanterns. This serves as both remembrance and as a way to help spirits ascend to heaven. Specifically in Hong Kong, the tradition called Yue Lan (Hungry Ghosts Festival) involves burning pictures of money or fruit in order to reach roaming spirits as a form of comfort or peace offering.
During the Obon festival in Japan, people practice similar rituals as the Chinese, but theirs incorporate more community dancing, gifts presented to relatives' graveyards, and hanging and setting lanterns afloat in nearby rivers. Vegetarian dishes and cucumbers are also fixed up for the event.
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