Boo! Trick or treat! These words you’re likely to hear over and over again on that holiday that children and adults alike look forward to every October 31. What is this all about? Halloween, of course!
Halloween, one of the world’s oldest holidays, is celebrated today in many countries around the world.
In Ireland, the birth country of the Halloween tradition, the day is still fêted much as it is in the United States. In country sides, bonfires are lit as they were in the days of the Celts, and all over the country, kids and teenagers get dressed up in costumes and spend the sundown “trick-or-treating” in their neighborhoods. After trick-or-treating, most people attend parties with neighbors and friends. At the get-togethers, people amuse themselves playing games, including “snap-apple,” parents often arrange treasure hunts, with sweeties or pastries as the “treasure.” A old-fashioned food eaten on Halloween is barnbrack, a kind of fruitcake that can be bought in stores or baked at home. A muslin-wrapped treat is put inside the loaf that, it is said, can foretell the eater’s future. If a ring is found, it means that the person will soon be wed; a piece of straw means that a successful year is on its way.
In Mexico, Latin America countries and Spain, Dia de los Muertos translated as All Souls’ Day, which is observed on November 2, is commemorated with a three-day celebration that begins on the evening of October 31. The festivity is designed to honor the dead who, it is whispered, return to their earthly homes on Halloween. Many families build an altar to the dead in their homes for the deceased relatives and beautify it with candy, flowers, pictures, samples of the deceased’s much loved foods and beverages, and fresh water. Habitually, a wash basin and towel are left out so that the soul can wash before indulging in the feast.
Día de los Muertos festivities often feature pastries, breads, chocolates and other foods in the shape of skulls and skeletons. Candles and incense are lit to help the deceased find the way home. Relatives also tidy the gravesites of their last family members including snipping weeds, making upkeeps, and painting. The grave is then decorated with plants, flowers, garlands, or paper streamers. On November 2, relatives gather at the gravesite to picnic and recollect. Some gatherings even include tequila and a mariachi band.
On the evening of November 5, bonfires are set alight throughout England. Effigies are burned and fireworks are set off. Though it falls around the same time and has some similar customs, this fête has little to do with Halloween or the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The English, for the most part, ceased celebrating Halloween with the beginning of spreading of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation. As followers of the new belief did not accept existence of the saints as true, they had no reason to celebrate the eve of All Saints’ Day. However, a new fall ritual did occur. Guy Fawkes Day festivities were designed to commemorate the execution of a well-known English traitor, Guy Fawkes.
On November 5, 1606, Fawkes, a member of a Catholic group who wanted to remove the Protestant King James from power, was executed after being found guilty of attempting to blow up England’s parliament building.
The original Guy Fawkes Day was observed right after his execution. The first bonfires, which were called “bone fires,” were set up to burn effigies and symbolic “bones” of the Catholic pope. It was not until few epochs later that effigies of the pope were replaced with those of Guy Fawkes. In addition to this children in some parts of England also pace the streets carrying an effigy or “guy” and ask for “a penny for the guy,” although they keep the money for themselves. This is as close to the American practice of “trick-or-treating” as can be found in England these days. Guy Fawkes Day was also celebrated by the pilgrims at the first settlement at Plymouth. Nevertheless, as the young nation began to develop its own history, Guy Fawkes was celebrated less often and finally perished.
If you find yourself in Japan during the summer, you may be able to attend the celebration of the Obon Festival. This annual event is observed to honor the spirits of the ancestors. Fires are lit each night, and red lanterns are proudly exposed and even released into rivers and the ocean.
In China, Chinese New Year celebrations conclude with a lantern festival known as Teng Chieh. Lanterns designed like animals are hung in the streets and near homes to ward off evil spirits. The Chinese people also honor departed relatives and loved friends by sharing with them meals and drinks by placing them in front of the photos of the deceased.
For P’chum Ben, a holiday in Cambodia, Buddhists pay respects to their deceased family members by making offerings of sweet sticky rice and beans wrapped in banana leaves at temples. They also gather with friends and family members to listen to music and special speeches offered by local monks.
Let’s learn more about Halloween around the globe together!
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