Halloween Around the World: Customs and Traditions

How do people celebrate their version of Halloween around the world? With less candy corn than you'd think.

There’s something fascinating about the notion of death and dying. What happens after we pass through this life? Many cultures around the world have created unique ways to honor deceased family and friends, along with traditions designed to keep evil spirits at bay. Some believe the American Halloween has its roots as a festival to remember the dead. How about Halloween around the world?

The Festival of Lanterns, Obon, or the Festival of the Dead is held in August. It is a “homecoming” of sorts, where the spirits of ancestors visit living relatives. Many Japanese prepare special meals as offerings and hang lanterns in front of homes to guide the spirits.

During P’chum Ben, a celebration linked to the lunar calendar and often in September, Buddhists honor their dead by bringing sweet sticky rice and beans wrapped in banana leaves to temples and gather with family and friends to hear music and speeches by monks.

On All Saints Day, Nov. 1, Catholic Germans honor the memory of saints and visit the graves of family members. From October 30 to November 8, Germans hide knives so returning spirits won’t be hurt by everyday knife movements.

Similar to Germany, Austrian Catholics celebrate All Souls Week from October 30 to November 8. Some Austrians honor their dead relatives by turning on a lamp during the night and leaving bread and water.

During the festival Teng Chieh or the Feast of the Hungry Ghosts, lanterns and bonfires are lit to guide spirits back to Earth. Water and food are placed before portraits of dead relatives. Wandering ghosts are said to look for food, recognition and care in the afterlife.

Czech Republic
During the Commemoration of All the Departed at the end of autumn, Czechs place flowers and candles on graves. At home, they place a chair for each dead relative by the fireside. Legend has it that the living can speak to the dead, who can hear—and respond.

Many Italian families make bean-shaped caked called Beans of the Dead. In southern Italy, families prepare a feast for the departed relatives, then go to church, leaving their homes open so spirits can feast.

Children dress up, go trick-or-treating, and play a game called “snap-apple” where an apple is tied on a tree and kids attempt to bite the apple.

At home, families place food, drink and cempasúchil flowers near photographs of deceased relatives to welcome them back. On the Day of the Dead, people decorate skulls and create images of skulls and skeletons.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest