Halloween at Home Around the World
Find out how cultures around the globe celebrate Halloween and holidays like it
Child's ofrenda in Dia de los Muertos celebration
For centuries around the world, autumn holidays have been observed as a way of commemorating the dead and celebrating the harvest season. While black cats, skeletons, and trick-or-treating all have roots in other cultures, many of the things we assume were always part of Halloween (in some parts of the world known as All Hallows' Eve) were actually invented here in the United States. Take pumpkins for instance. Early settlers started carving them because they were more plentiful here than the gourds or turnips they had used in their native Europe. The same goes for many of our beloved decorations.
So how do people around the world deck their homes during Halloween or similar holidays such as All Saints' Day on November 1 and All Souls' Day on November 2? Some countries take a very similar approach to ours, while others have a very different take on this spectral time of year.
Ireland and Scotland: All Hallows' Eve
Several Halloween traditions, including trick-or-treating and prank-pulling, have been passed down from European immigrants, especially those from Ireland and Scotland. So, it's no surprise that the Irish also carve jack-o-lanterns, said to be inspired by the spirit of a wandering blacksmith named Jack who made a deal with the devil to stay out of hell but couldn't make it into heaven. Snap Apple, in which apples are hung from strings, is another All Hallows' Eve tradition in Irish households. Blindfolded children take turns to see who can be the first to get a good bite. Bonfires are lit in Ireland and Scotland to keep away evil spirits and attract the souls of deceased ancestors. If a girl drops a strand of her hair into the flames and dreams of her future husband to be, it is said that her dream will come true.
England: Guy Fawkes' Day
This English holiday, which celebrates the foiling of Guy Fawkes' attempt to blow up the Parliament in London in 1605, actually takes place on November 5. But it is often rolled up with All Hallows' Eve into one week-long celebration. Bonfires and fireworks are on display in towns and villages, and effigies of Guy are burned.
Mexico: Dia de los Muertos
Amongst many native Americans in Mexico, the holiday is more about honoring those who have passed away. On November 1 and 2, Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, family and friends gather to remember loved ones who have died. Families build ofrendas, or altars, for the deceased and deck them out with candles, special foods, and objects the dead enjoyed when they were alive. A table is set up beside the ofrenda, where households honor the deceased with a dish of food, a candle, and a bouquet of flowers at an empty seat. Deceased children are remembered with flowers and toys that the child enjoyed.
Trinidad and Tobago: All Saints Day
This Caribbean island nation is well known for its spirited celebrations during Carnival, but the country also sets aside a day to remember those who have passed on. People celebrate with large family dinners and festively decorated table settings, which include strands of cotton-like kapok from the silk-cotton tree. The dinner, however, is not enjoyed until the family returns from the graveyard where they have gone to leave flowers for deceased loved ones. While they are gone, they don't lock the doors of their house so the spirits of friends and family can enter. Upon returning, the family leaves a lit candle and a bouquet of flowers at the door, drinks rum, and then sits down inside to enjoy their commemorative meal.
Italy: Il Giorno dei Morti
On Il Giorno dei Morti, All Souls' Day, in Sicily young children who have prayed for the morti, or souls of the departed, leave their shoes outside doors and windows at night. In the morning, they wake up to see if their prayers have paid off with gifts left in their shoes.
The Czech Republic: All Souls' Day
In the Czech Republic, chairs are placed by the fireside on All Soul's Day with chairs for living family members and chairs for each of the souls of those who have died.
Austria and Southern Germany: Seleenwoche
Catholics in Germany and Austria celebrate the entire week between October 30 and November 8, known as Seleenwoche. At home, Germans hide their knives from returning spirits, while Austrians leave out food and light lamps. In celebration of the harvest, Austrians also place a woven straw decoration called a heiligenstritzel outside of their doors to signify a successful harvest.
Zuni Native Americans, New Mexico: Ahoppa awan tewa
Some Native American cultures have a special day set aside to honor their dead. The Zuni Indians begin their celebration, which lasts four days, in late October, when a townsperson announces to the village that the holiday has begun. Wood is brought in to make a large fire, and a portion of the meal prepared on this day is thrown into the fire or carried to the riverside, where possessions of the deceased are buried. After the sun goes down, young Zuni boys travel from house to house, saying prayers and making the sign of the cross at the threshold. The people of the house usually give these children bread or meat. The holiday was influenced by the Spaniards, who brought their customs to the Americas, but its roots that go back long before colonization.
India: Pitra Pakksha
Lasting 15 days, Pitra Pakksha begins in mid-September. During this time, offerings of water or balls of rice and meal are made to the dead, usually by a family's eldest son. Some of the offerings are given to cows, crows, and Brahmins. In Bengal and parts of eastern India, Mahalaya, a religious festival believed to awaken dead spirits, is celebrated.