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Halloween is a favourite tradition in the West that we may have adopted from an ancient Celtic festival, Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. The holiday of All Saints’ Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain, and the evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and now, Halloween. 

The carved-out pumpkins that many families still relish carving into macabre faces and light up with candles have been adopted from an Irish folktale. The Irish used to carve faces in their turnips and potatoes. 

Each culture celebrates a different version of Halloween, from a sombre festivity, celebrating and remembering their dead, to a celebration of life, appeasing spirits and honouring saints. 

Dia De Los Muertos ( Day of the Dead)
Mexico & Latin America

On November 1st Latin American countries – and Mexico in particular – honour the dead with the “Day of the Dead” festival and hold lively celebrations that honour and remember the dead rather than mourn them. Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience. Partakers in the tradition will often dress with calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls) painted onto their faces, and onto dolls and on cakes and treats, as well as wearing brightly coloured skirts and hats adorned with flowers.

Austria
Halloween

Austria offers a more solemn celebration of Halloween, choosing to use the day to honour dead relatives and friends. Before they go to bed that night, they will leave bread, water and a lighted lamp on the table, as it was once believed that such items would welcome the dead souls back to earth on a night which, for the Austrians, was considered to be brimming with strong cosmic energies.

Teng Chieh
China

In China a bonfire and lanterns are lit, whilst shrines of family members are offered food and water. The bonfires and lanterns are thought to light the paths of the spirits as they travel the earth on Halloween night. In Buddhist temples, boats will be built from paper and then burned in the evening to remember the dead and free the spirits of the “pretas” (those who have drowned and their body has not been buried), so they can go to heaven. Buddhist temples teach that “pretas” among the living are dangerous, so they perform ceremonies which include the lighting of lanterns whilst monks recite sacred verses, and offerings of fruit are presented.

Yue Lan
Hong Kong

“Yue Lan” translates as “Festival of the Hungry Ghosts”, and the Hong Kongese believe that ghosts roam for 24 hours. Some people burn pictures of fruit or money at this time, believing these images would reach the spirit world and bring comfort to the ghosts. Fires are lit and food and gifts are offered to placate potentially angry ghosts who might be looking for revenge.

Gai Jatra
Nepal

Gai Jatra is the Nepalese festival of cows, but is meant to commemorate the death of people over the past year. The festival features parades of cows. Many people dress up to resemble Hindu gods, with painted faces. The commemorators carry pictures of their loved ones, adorned with flowers, and they dance.

Japan
Obon

This Japanese Buddhist festival lasts for three days, during July and August depending on whereabouts in Japan you are. The Japanese will honour the spirits by taking part in family reunions, cleaning graves or visiting places associated with their family’s history. It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years, and includes a ceremonial dance known as the “Bon-Odori.”

Italy
Festa della Befana

La Festa dell’Epifania, or the Epiphany, is celebrated on January 6th. This tradition is associated in Christendom with the birth of Jesus and the visit of the biblical Magi to the manger.  But in Italy the festival day is preceded by Epiphany Eve, the “Festa della Befana,” and the visit of La Befana, a witch who leaves gifts for children. La Befana is depicted as a witch with the typical crooked nose and who flies around on a broomstick.

Europe
Walpurgis Night

April 30th is celebrated around northern Europe – Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states – as they celebrate “Witches’ Night”.  It is often referred to as Walpurgis Night in honour of the German female saint Walpurga. You can find those celebrating the tradition drinking sparkling wine, hosting lavish picnics, playing pranks and lighting large bonfires.

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