Halloween is one of America’s most popular holidays and combines traditions from a variety of sources such as European, Celtic, Catholic, and even Roman folk traditions. Taking place on October 31st, Halloween is a time for ghoulish activities for people of all ages, including StuyTown's Halloween Spooktacular! However, the United States is not the only country with a Halloween tradition owing to its many sources other countries also have Halloween or Halloween like traditions. These vary greatly and offer insight into local customs and cultural beauties. Some of these include the following.
Austria: in Austria Halloween night is considered to have great cosmic significance allowing souls of the departed to return to Earth for one night. Because of this folk belief some Austrians leave a lighted lamp, bread, and water out on the table on Halloween night.
Belgium: Belgians also believe in the common folk tradition of a black cat crossing your path to be unlucky. One slight variation is that this also extends to the animals entering a home or traveling on a ship. A specific Halloween tradition is to light candles in remembrance of lost loved ones and family members.
China: China’s ‘Festival Of Hungry Ghost’ (Yue Lan) holds the belief that ghosts roam the Earth for 24 hours. Because many of these spirits might be vengeful offerings are made to placate them and bring comfort. The burning of pictures of fruit and Joss Paper as offering is a tradition.
Czech Republic: in the Czech Republic on Halloween night chairs are placed around the home’s fireplace. Chairs are set for each family member and also for the spirit of each departed family member.
Germany: Germans also fear the vengeance of angry spirits on Halloween. Because of this all knives in the home are put away so the spirits cannot use them to harm the living. Also the German term “Süßes oder Saures” (Sweet or Sour) is said by German children knocking on doors for candy.
Guatemala: On All Saints Day Guatemalans have a tradition of constructing kites sizing 2 to 20 meters in size. These intricately made kites are then flown from atop the hill overlooking the largest cemetery in the city before releasing them into the wind where they are then torn apart. The act of creation followed by destruction symbolizes the cycle of birth and death.
Italy: has its local traditions as well. Fave dei Morti (Beans of the Dead) are baked on All Souls Day these bean shaped pastries are believed to date back to ancient Greece where they were served at funerals giving the food a religious connotation that remains to this day. In southern Italy there is this tradition: the table is set with a full meal and then the family goes to Church leaving the meal for the spirits to eat.
Japan: the annual Obon Festival traces its roots to Buddhist tradition. During the festival it is said that spirits of the dead return to visit their families and loved ones. To guide the spirits lanterns are hung to give directions. Other customs include dance, visitation of family grave sites, and offerings of food are made. After the festival ends lanterns are placed into bodies of water to guide the spirits back to the afterlife. The Obon Festival is also quite regionalized so customs can vary greatly depending on location.
Mexico: El Día de Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is one of the most famous of all Halloween celebrations. Feeling that morning would be insulting it is instead a vibrant celebration of the lives of those that have died. Celebration, dancing, eating, and festivities are common. Skulls and skeletons are a common thematic choice during the festival in decoration, costumes, and food.