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Halloween Celebrations Around the World

Breathe deeply…. October is here! In my little corner of the world, October means crisp air and brightly colored leaves.  It means smiling pumpkins and straw bales garnished with vibrant mums. It’s costume stress and an endless supply of candy. It means Halloween is on our doorstep as surely as the trick-or-treaters will be on the 31st. As I filled the monster munchies bowl, I began thinking about our Halloween traditions. How are they different from others? Are there Halloween celebrations around the world? Does everyone carve jack-o-lanterns and dress up? I decided to “scare up” some information about this ancient holiday and was fascinated by what I found.

Where did Halloween begin?

Halloween started in Ireland with the early Celtic festival, Samhain. Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest. It was believed that the boundary between the dead and living became blurred on this day.  Celebrants wore costumes and lit bonfires to ward off ghosts and prevent spirits’ mischief causing crop damage. When Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as All Hallows Eve in the 8th century, many of the traditions associated with Samhain were adopted.

How is Halloween celebrated around the world?

Halloween, or Halloween-like events, take place across the globe. They are often celebrated in the same general time frame as Halloween and have similar themes of the dead rejoining the living. Oddly enough, food (and not just candy) is often involved.

Do the Irish still celebrate Halloween?

In Ireland, bonfires still dot the landscape and children still dress in costume to trick-or-treat on Halloween. Neighborhood parties often follow the door-to-door activities. Children and adults eat a special fruitcake called a barnbrack. Each has a treat baked inside that can predict the future. If you find a toy ring in your barnbrack, romance is in store. If you bite into a coin, it’s going to be a prosperous year.

Is Dia de los Muertos a Halloween celebration?

Dia de los Muertos is NOT a Halloween celebration, but it is a time to honor the dead.  In Latin America, Spain and Mexico, October 31st marks the beginning of this three-day observance.  During these days, families of the deceased believe the dead come back to visit. People build alters for their lost loved ones and fill them with candy, flowers, photos, favorite foods and even drinks. The celebration wraps up November 2nd on All Souls Day.

How do the English celebrate Halloween?

On November 5, 1606, Guy Fawkes was executed after being convicted of trying to blow up England’s parliament building. Fawkes was a Catholic who wanted to remove King James from the throne. Today, Guy Fawkes Day is commemorated each November 5th with bonfires, effigies of Guy and fireworks.  Children also roam neighborhoods asking for pennies for the “guy.” No need for a candy bowl here- just lots of spare change!

What is the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong?

Somewhere between mid-August and mid-September, the people of East Asia believe spirits get restless and begin to roam. The Hungry Ghost Festival gives them a chance to feed the spirits and give them money for the afterlife.

How do Italians celebrate?

All Saints Day on November 1st is a national holiday in Italy. People leave fresh flowers (typically chrysanthemums) on the graves of loved ones and strangers, creating colorful displays. They also place single red candles in windows at sunset and set tables with an extra place to encourage visits from lost loved ones.

There are countless Halloween celebrations around the world with different names and common themes. It’s a fascinating look at how traditions are formed and an interesting perspective on our similarities as global citizens. As you fill your own munchies bowl for the onslaught of trick or treaters, know that you are not alone when celebrating the departed!