The USA is the undisputed champion of Halloween, with the UK not far behind. However, the reasons behind the traditions and customs have evaporated over the years. Although people of all ages revel in the spooky celebrations, there are locations around the world that have their own unique ways of doing things.
From spirits visiting the earth for feasts, to psychic readings and the planting of wheat, the locations below may inspire you to indulge in something a little different this Halloween.
Day of the Dead, Mexico
Known in Spanish as Dia de Meurtos, Day of the Dead takes place every year on the 2nd November in Mexico, Latin America, and Spain. Festivities kick off on the 31st of October and last three days. It is believed that the gates of heaven open at midnight on the 31st, and the spirits of deceased children are allowed to reunite with their families for twenty-four hours. On the 2nd November, the adult spirits travel from heaven to enjoy the remaining festivities.
The state of Aguascalientes in north-central Mexico celebrate Day of the Dead with the Festival de las Calaveras (Festival of Skulls). Beautiful altars are constructed for the celebrations and elaborately painted calavera (fake skulls) line the streets. Known as sugar skulls, the intricately painted statues are now a very popular costume for party-goers in the USA and UK, with many painting their faces to mimic the traditional calavera art of Mexico.
Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, Hong Kong
Hong Kong is championed as the Halloween capital of Asia, and the region has two traditions that contrast spectacularly. Yue Lan, the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, is a historical celebration within which gifts of food are laid out in homes and temples to provide comfort and ward away evil spirits. Unlike the Halloween celebrations in the Western world, Yue Lan takes places on the 15th night of the seventh month. The Ghost Festival has roots in both Buddhist and Taoist religions, and rituals are performed to absolve the sufferings of the deceased.
The second tradition, which is highly commercialised, is the annual Halloween Bash at Hong Kong’s Disneyland. People travel from all over the world to experience the grand party.
Festival of the Dead, Salem, USA
Although you may assume that Halloween in America is the same from state to state, there are some who like to keep things quirky. Salem, in Massachusetts, is a town famed for witch hunting. Those who live in Salem tend to be highly superstitious and their Halloween celebrations are to die for. The Festival of the Dead is made up different activities and parties throughout the whole of October.
The annual celebrations explore death’s macabre customs, heretical histories, and strange rituals through psychic fairs and witchcraft expos, as well as graveyard conjurers and portals in to the spirit world. A highlight for some who pilgrimage to Salem is the Witches’ Halloween Ball which celebrates the afterlife. All celebrations promise to defy the boundaries of religion, culture, and death.
Saint Barbara’s Day, The Middle East
Celebrated in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel on the 4th December is Saint Barbara’s Day. Also known as Eid il-Burbara, celebrations take place in honour of the Christian Saint and Martyr Saint Barbara, who suffered horrendous torture before being beheaded by her own father. Her tomb is said to be the site of many miracles.
The day is celebrated with banquets, and children decorate the streets with jack-o’-lanterns before trick or treating. A tradition of Lebanon for Eid il-Burbara is to plant wheat seeds in cotton wool. Saint Barbara is said to have witnessed a miracle whilst escaping persecution running through planted wheat fields; the plants grew instantly to cover her tracks. Many families symbolically watch their wheat grow and, by Christmas, it is used to decorate a nativity scene which is usually placed under the Christmas tree.