Halloween is just around the corner, and millions of children in North America, and across the globe, are preparing their costumes, carving pumpkins, and gearing up to go door-to-door asking for candy. Though we might associate Halloween today with chocolate candies and silly pranks, the holiday actually has its roots in religious traditions. The origin point of North American halloween customs, for instance, can be traced back to Scotland and Ireland. But it’s not just the British isle that venerates the dearly departed: cultures across the world do it, too. Click through to read about some of the Halloween, and Halloween-like, holidays, festivals and celebrations across the globe.
1. China: Yu Lan.
Known in English as the Hungry Ghost Festival, this month-long celebration marks the return of the departed to the world of the living. Living relatives burn fake money, televisions, and other big-ticket items as an offering to the deceased; they also offer up elaborate meals as sacrifice, and stage elaborate operas to entertain the spirits.
2. Sicily: Tutti i Santi.
Children on the Italian island of Sicily eagerly await All Saints’ Day each year, with the promise of visits from their dearly departed loved ones. The fact that these spirits bring along candy, particularly frutta di martorana, marzipan in the shape of fruits, and toys, doesn’t hurt, either. It’s also a day to visit the graves of the deceased, making sure they’re in tip-top shape.
3. England: Guy Fawkes Night.
North American Halloween may have originated in the British Isles, but the holiday isn’t nearly as popular as it is on the other side of the Atlantic. What is popular, though, is Guy Fawkes Night, celebrated by lighting bonfires each November 5th. So who was Guy Fawkes, and why does he have his own holiday? Well, back in 1605 Guy Fawkes was part of a plot to oust the Protestant King James I and replace him with a Catholic leader. The attempt failed and Fawkes was arrested; November 5th was the day of his execution.
4. Japan: The Obon.
The Japanese version of Halloween, related to the Chinese Hungry Ghost festival, isn’t a night of spooks, screams, and scares: rather, the spirits return to earth to visit their living relatives. The living relatives, in turn, place lanterns outside of their homes to help guide the spirits; at the end of the festival, they place lit lanterns in a river, signaling that the spirits are returning to the afterlife.
5. Mexico: Dia de Los Muertos.
Perhaps the most widely celebrated variation of All Saints’ Day in the United States, Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, honors and celebrates deceased loved ones. With roots in both traditional Aztec culture and in Spanish Christian culture, Dia de Los Muertos is one of the most popular holidays in Mexico. Traditions vary by region, but often involve the construction of an elaborate altar in the home.