Halloween Around the World


artwork by Isabella Bolong ’22

In America, we know Halloween to be a holiday full of costumes, monsters, and candy, but there are several different ways to celebrate all around the world. Halloween comes from the Celtic celebration of Samhain. It was celebrated from October 31 to November 1 as a way of welcoming the harvest season. People would believe that during this time, the barrier between the world of the living and the world of the dead would be broken and spirits would roam the earth. There would be bonfires, feasts, and the practice of divination. Offerings were left for their dead and in return, they would ensure that their livestock survived the winter months. People would go door-to-door adorned in costumes and would recite verses for food, also known as guising. 

In Japan, they celebrate the Obon Festival, a Buddhist-Confucian tradition that centers around the souls of their ancestors. It is usually celebrated in mid August, but the time of year differs by region. They believe that during the Obon Festival, their ancestors return to their previous homes and visit their families. Red paper lanterns are lit on their doorsteps to guide their ancestors home to an altar with food offerings such as rice and sweets. The Obon Festival is extremely important to the Japanese because it reunites families and honors the departed, who are believed to bring good fortune to their descendants. At the end of Obon, families will clean gravesites and float the lanterns down rivers and lakes to guide their ancestors back to their resting place. 

In Latin America, Mexico, and Spain, Halloween is celebrated by a three-day celebration called “El Dia de los Muertos”. It begins on October 31 and ends on November 2. Hispanic families joyously gather to commemorate their deceased friends and family. It is believed that the dead return to their homes for a feast. Families will make an altar with food offerings, candles, flowers, family pictures, and a basin and towel. There are church services and festive parades honoring the dead. On the final day of Dia de Los Muertos, families will have a picnic at their ancestors’ gravesite. They clean and decorate their graves, eat traditional dishes like pan de muertos, and share stories about their departed loved ones. 

In Poland, Dzień Zaduszny is celebrated in early November. It is an equivalent to All Souls’ Day. The Polish people travel to their families’ gravesites to offer prayers for their souls, as it is believed that they return to the mortal world during this time. Graves would be decorated with flowers, wreaths, and red and white votive lights. Candles are lit to guide the souls to the homes of their relatives. Sometimes these candles are lit on waterways to travel to the other world. Places are left for them at their dinner tables, where they break a ritual bread and eat traditional Polish dishes. They save the leftovers for beggars at the cemetery. In exchange, the beggars would pass messages on to the deceased. On the second day of Dzień Zaduszny, there is a requiem mass for the dead. 

As opposed to Halloween in the United States, other countries view Halloween as a time to honor the dead. They have special celebrations remembering their loved ones, light candles, and eat traditional dishes from their culture. Prayers and offerings are dedicated to their ancestors, and ask for guidance and good fortune. While spooks and sweets may be fun, many other cultures prefer to focus on the importance of family and carrying on the legacy of their ancestors.