It’s unpopular opinion time: I don’t really like Halloween. I’ll give you a moment to digest that heresy, so go ahead and gasp in shock. Or horror, if you will. ‘Tis the season, after all.
No, it’s certainly not something I particularly dig, but as October 31st rolls around once again, it’s difficult to ignore. It’s everywhere. Everywhere. And it’s got me thinking. It’s got me wondering, actually, and the first place my mind invariably tends to wander when I start to wonder is to the great wide world out there. To different cultures and customs. I’ve been thinking about Halloween and differently named, similarly themed celebrations that take place the world over, and I thought to myself, well, what better excuse to write a blog post do I need?
I was never a kid who enjoyed playing dress-up on any of the other three hundred and sixty four days of the year, so the thought of having to do so specifically on one day has always been distressing. And for what? For the joy of knocking on stranger’s doors? The mere thought piques my social anxiety. For more free chocolate than anyone could hope to acquire in a single night? I don’t seek out sweets; I just don’t have the tooth for it. For the thrill of scaring and being scared? I can’t get behind the appeal. I’ve reluctantly took part all these years, but I just want to confess the honest-to-goodness truth and put the matter to rest once and for all.
I mean, sure, I’ll play along. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re young and fun and need an excuse to party ‘n bullshit. But is there a celebration in likeness, somewhere else, that I might better appreciate? This was the question I asked and, as it turns out, there are a wide variety of festivals around the globe that similarly celebrate the living, the dead, the uncanny, and the otherworldly.
So, without further adieu….
Halloween-esque Celebrations Around the World
Dia de los Muertos
Now here’s one that I can get behind. Unlike Halloween, which ridicules and confronts evil and death head on, the Day of the Dead embraces it with fond remembrances, bright colors, and more skulls than you’ll find beneath the streets of Paris. While all of those skeletons give off an air of morbidity, Dia de los Muertos is a joyous occasion celebrated in Spanish culture all over the world. Offerings of food, old photographs, and bright marigolds are made to the departed, and lost loved ones are warmly remembered while sharing toys and tequila for children and adults. Respectively, of course.
Translated as Bread in the Name of God, and celebrated on the first day of November, the Pão-por-Deus tradition dates back more than five hundred years. It’s celebrated similarly to Halloween, though starts bright and early with a religious service, as most traditional holidays tend to do. After mass, all of the little Portuguese boys and all of the little Portuguese girls tour the neighbourhood, knocking on doors, asking for Pão-por-Deus, or bread to fill their impoverished bellies. At least, that’s how the tradition started. Nowadays they collect chocolates, sweets, and Broas dos Santos, a pastry filled with nuts and honey for which every woman has a secret recipe handed down from her grandmother’s grandmother.
All Saints’ Day
If you want to see proof of globalization, look no further than the North American culture of Halloween. It’s gradually spreading across the world, replacing indigenous traditions left, right, and centre. One such example of this is in the Philippines. Few provinces still practice Pangangaluluwa, a night of Filipino-style trick-or-treating where sheeted ghost-people run door to door collecting offerings and prayers.
More widely celebrated is the Catholic holiday of All Saints’ Day. Also known as Undas, it’s a day of honor and remembrance for the dead. Families gather to place flowers and candles at the graves of their loved ones, and then congregate for the type of big, family banquet that Filipinos do so well.
In the seventh lunar month, which I’ve deduced falls sometime during the summer months, a number of countries across the Asian continent celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festival, when the spirits who have passed return to our mortal world to say hello. In Taiwan, they stick around for an entire month! I know, right? Family. On the first day of the month, the temple gates are opened to let ’em in, and then various activities take place during the month to keep these spirits at bay. Don’t tempt fate by having surgery done, starting a business, or hanging your laundry out at night (possession is always a possibility), and just to be on the safe size, offer the ghosts dances, lanterns, and tables upon tables of food. After all, a well fed ghost is a benevolent ghost.
Another seventh lunar month celebration, another festival dedicated to welcoming back the spirits of the ancestors. In the Japanese tradition, spirits are said to return to their family’s alters where the usual offerings are made in their honor. How do you ensure that your ancestors feel welcomed into the middle world? You dance. The Bon Odori is a Japanese folk dance performed to welcome the dead, and though it differs by region, it’s intention is to spread the type of good, welcoming vibes that would make a spirit want to stick around and party for a little while.
Have you experienced any of these celebrations yourself? Do you know of any other such festivals elsewhere? Share in the comments below!