Halloween is one of America’s favorite holidays. Not at all surprising, given that the annual celebration includes copious amounts of sweets! Despite this obvious appeal, the celebration of Halloween as it is known in the United States and Canada is a unique artifact of cultural history. Read on to find out the many ways other cultures celebrate this spookiest of seasons.
Mexico | Día de los Muertos
The origins of the Mexican festival Día de los Muertos go back hundreds of years to the Aztec festival honoring the goddess Mictecacihautl, Queen of the Underworld. During the celebration, the dates of October 31st through November 2nd are set aside to honor and remember departed family members and loved ones. Each year, family and friends visit the graves of their loved ones to build small altars – called ofrendas – of flowers, offerings, and food, inviting the departed souls to hear their prayers and well wishes as they complete their spiritual journey. Sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods of the departed are commonly featured in these ofrendas.
Europe & South America | All Saint’s Day
Also known as All Souls Day or All Hallows Day, is a solemn celebration observed in historically Catholic and Anglican countries commemorating all saints, known and unknown. Many historians believe that this celebration was initiated by Catholic leaders to coincide with the Celtic festival of Samhain, observed throughout Britain, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. A harvest celebration with pagan roots, the night of Samhain was seen as a seminal time, when spirits – called the Aos Sí – could cross over into the realm of the living. In Ireland, those leaving their homes would wear masks and engage in mumming and guising, or going door to door and reciting verses in exchange for food and sweets, likely where the tradition of trick-or-treating came from. Some of these traditions are still observed today in various forms: in Germany, households hide their knives so that wandering spirits do not hurt themselves, and in Austria, many leave offerings of water near lamps that remain on throughout the night as an invitation for spirits to visit.
Korea | Chuseok
A three-day festival observed around the autumn equinox, Chuseok is a celebration of the year’s harvest. Many scholars believe it to have originated from ancient shamanistic celebrations of the harvest moon. Offerings from the new harvest were made to departed spirits and local deities, and families visit their traditional homes to share in a feast of traditional foods such as songpyeon and hangwa. On the morning of Chuseok, families gather to honor their departed ancestors with a memorial service called Charye.
With all the ways to celebrate the season, you’re sure to have a wonderful time wherever you go!