If you’ve bought a pumpkin ready for carving into some spooky shapes or have some wickedly witchy costumes ready for a party this Halloween, have you ever wondered where these traditions originate from? In this blog, we explore Halloween traditions from around the world and seek to uncover the roots of this haunting celebration.
What are the origins of Halloween?
Halloween is traditionally celebrated on the 31st of October each year. It is a tradition that goes back centuries to Celtic times and the ancient festival of Samhain.
Samhain is a 2000-year-old pagan festival observed during Harvest time, marking the arrival of the ‘dark half of the year.’ Many Celts believed that during this time, barriers between the worlds of humans and spirits would break down, allowing interactions between the two. Therefore, they carried out certain rituals to drive away these ghostly presences.
Later, Samhain’s traditions merged with All Saints Day, a day to honour the dead, created by Pope Gregory III in the 8th century. People dressed up in costumes, built big bonfires and paraded the streets. The night before became known as All Hallows Eve, evolving later to Halloween.
How have Halloween traditions evolved?
Halloween began in the Celtic countries of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, so it remains a popular tradition in the UK and Ireland today. Children dress up and go trick-or-treating, carve pumpkins and light candles and bonfires.
However, when Halloween reached the USA, its popularity accelerated and it became a holiday celebrated more exuberantly.
Irish immigrants travelled to America in the mid-1800s, and their Halloween traditions soon began to influence the Americans. People started dressing up as spooky characters, hosting ‘play parties’ and telling scary stories.
Early versions of trick-or-treating emerged from the Irish wearing costumes and asking their neighbours for food and money. Initially, the tricks took precedence, with unruly pranks causing quite a bit of damage. However, this tradition has evolved over the years in the USA to become a more fun and friendly pursuit involving children on the hunt for candy.
Do other countries have Halloween traditions?
Halloween is not celebrated around the world in the same way as it is in the USA and UK. However, many cultures do have similar traditions that honour the spirits of those who have passed away.
The Day of the Dead or Día de Los Muertos is an ancient Aztec tradition, now celebrated in Mexico, Spain and Latin America on the 2nd of November. People go to their ancestors’ graves and decorate them with bright marigolds and candles, welcoming their loved ones home to visit once more.
In Japan, people commemorate their loved ones during an ancient Buddhist festival known as Obon. Celebrations take place during mid-August and involve hanging lanterns on house fronts, creating house altars and making food offerings, visiting graves and performing dances. One particularly captivating tradition is the placing of lanterns on rivers and lakes, with their flickering light meant to guide spirits back to their world.
Chinese people also use lanterns in their rituals. However, this time it’s to drive away evil spirits from their homes. These colourful animal-shaped lanterns are used during Chinese New Year.
Although Halloween is an ancient festival with long-held practices that have spread from Celtic countries to the USA, it is not celebrated that widely across the world. Nonetheless, several other countries have Halloween-type traditions that are used in similar festivals that recognise the spirit world.
Have you come across any other Halloween traditions from around the world? If so, we’d love to hear about them.