Halloween around the world
Between ancestral traditions and contemporary customs, Halloween is celebrated in many ways around the world: here are some examples of countries with practices as different as they are rooted.
Ireland, the origins of Halloween
Halloween has its origins in the Celtic festival of Samain (Samhain in Gaelic), formerly celebrated to mark the passage between the light year and the dark year as well as the end of agricultural activities. According to belief, a passage to the Other World also opened during this period, allowing the living to visit the deceased and the latter to stroll through the world of the living. The Samain festivities extended over 7 days, three days before November 1 and 3 days after, and were punctuated by numerous banquets, druidic rites and sacrifices.
Today, many celebrations honouring Samhain take place across Ireland. To name just three: the spooky Halloween festival in Púca, the grandiose Derry festival or the Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin (which pays homage to the famous Dracula, a native of the city).
Dia de los muertos in Mexico
Listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2003, el Día de los muertos ("the day of the dead") is a Mexican holiday born more than 3000 years ago, in the pre-Hispanic era. Several times a year, the Aztecs and the Mayans celebrated their deceased through songs and dances in honour of the goddess of death Mictecacíhuatl and garnished their tombs with various offerings intended to accompany them to the afterlife and to support themselves in the Other World. After Spanish colonization in the 16th century, Christian and pre-Hispanic traditions mingle to give birth to the Día de los muertos as we know it today, now celebrated on November 1 and 2 to coincide with Christian All Saints Day.
Today, this day very dear to the hearts of Mexicans celebrates the return of the souls of the deceased to Earth: November 1 is dedicated to children ("angelitos") and the following day to the souls of adults. On this occasion, the Mexicans install altars on which they place all kinds of offerings intended to please the deceased, such as the "pan de muerto" (sweet bun) or the "calaveritas de azucar" (small sugar skulls), and of course tequila or mezcal to quench adult thirst. There are also portraits of the deceased, personal items, crosses, candles, incense ("copal"), the Cempasuchil (endemic flower of Mexico) or the "papel picado", paper decoration in the shape of skeletons and skulls.
Unlike Western Christian traditions, el Día de los muertos is synonymous with celebration and colours. The Mexicans decorate and illuminate the graves of their deceased, sing and dance, toast to the health of their dead, all between parades of a thousand colours, concerts, disguises and make-up with the effigy of the Calavera. The souls of the deceased are sung, glorified, celebrated and then escorted back to the afterlife.
The Ghost festival in China
In China, it is not Halloween but the Ghost Festival that is celebrated. This takes place every year on the 15th day of the 7th month of the year, called "Ghost Month", a period during which wandering spirits or those held in Hell return to Earth. Great banquets called "Pudus" are organized (with empty seats for the deceased), offerings of all kinds are prepared, incense is burned, performances ("Getais") and ceremonies are organized (always taking care to leave the first row free for the spirits), all in order to satisfy and appease the tormented souls who return to Earth...
Day of the Dead in Haiti
The Festival of the Dead, also called "Fet Gede", is a celebration of vodou origin which takes place on November 1 and 2. Strongly rooted in Haitian culture, this syncretic celebration pays homage to the Gede, spirits of death and resurrection in Vodou mythology. On this occasion, Haitians pray to their ancestors, make offerings to the Gede (cigars, coffee, rum, bread…), go to cemeteries to dance, sing…
Halloween in Anglo-Saxon countries
Due to its Anglo-Saxon origin, Halloween is particularly celebrated in the United States, Canada, England and Australia. In New York, for example, a big parade is organized every year, an opportunity for the curious to admire the colourful floats and the several thousand people who came to parade in their most beautiful costumes.
Another event inseparable from Halloween: the "Zombie walks", parades of living dead more real than life that take place in big cities like Brisbane or Montreal. To freeze the blood!
Finally, Halloween is the occasion for certain cities to open the doors of certain places reputed to be haunted to the curious in search of thrills. In England, Dover Castle, considered the most haunted in the country, will leave no one unmoved... Or why not stroll after dark in the Whitechapel district of London where Jack the Ripper was raging?
To learn more about the origins and traditions of Halloween, see our article "A little history of Halloween".
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Article written by Camille L.
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