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All Hallows Day Traditions Around the World

Posted on October 21 2016

It's that time of the year again. As the month of October ends and November commences, the world unites as they commemorate the dead in interestingly different manner, from the both ends of the spectrum.

What’s the difference between Halloween, All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day?

Maybe one of the most popular and anticipated holidays in America is Halloween. It is the night when kids dress up to be whoever and whatever they want. For the kids, it’s a night of overflowing candies and endless adventure. For the adults, it's the night to indulge in horror films, parties, and mystery thrillers. But, how did Halloween really came about?

The root word of Halloween - ''hallow'' - means ''holy,” while the suffix "-een" is an abbreviation for the old English word for "evening." Combining the two root words, it is literally defined as the Eve of All Hallows, the night before the Christian holy day that honors saintly people of the past.

Because of this, we find that Halloween still has roots to the Catholic tradition of mourning for the dead, manifested in two different occasions: All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. How can you differentiate the two?

According to Catholic Belief, All Saints is a celebration of the communion of saints. Those people that are believed to be in heaven. On the other hand, All Souls' Day is a day to pray for all of the souls still trying to reach heaven.

Traditions around the world:

In Austria, people celebrate the Pumpkin Festival called Kürbisfest im Retzer Land. They leave bread, water, and a lamp as a gesture of welcoming the souls back to the land of the living. Annually on November 11, they gather in a procession of lanterns wearing different costumes.

Like the Catholics, Belgians spend hallows eve by lighting a candle for their deceased loved ones. Superstitions are also being observed more carefully during this season.

Since the arrival of the Scottish and Irish immigrants by the 1880s, modern Halloween celebrations are observed in the country like carving Jack O’ Lanterns, trick or treating and decorating homes with carved pumpkins and spooky decorations.

The Halloween festival in China is more commonly known as Teng Chieh. During this festival, relatives offer food and water in front of the pictures of their dead family members. Lanterns are also lit to serve as a guide for the spirits as they travel back to earth on Halloween night.

Buddhist worshippers make "boats of the law" from paper varying in sizes that are later burned through the night. Legends say this tradition has two meanings: first, to remember the dead and secondly, to free the spirits of the “Pretas”—spirits of people who have died because of an accident (like drowning and fire) and their bodies were never found and buried.

If pumpkins are popular in America during Halloween, large beetroots are the ones in trend for the children in England. With their root crop, they would travel through the streets while singing the "Punkie Night Song" as they knocked on doors and asked for money—their version of trick or treat.

In the rural areas, turnips are carved and displayed in front yards as Halloween decorations. They also believe this would protect their homes from roaming spirits during the hallows eve.

They are also accustomed to tossing stones and pebbles, nuts and vegetables into bonfires, with the belief that it would frighten away spirits. The tradition also has fortune-telling abilities: If a pebble thrown into the flames at night was no longer visible in the morning, then it was believed that the person who tossed the pebble would not survive another year. If nuts tossed into the blaze by young lovers then exploded, it signified a quarrelsome marriage.

But, as Martin Luther King’s Protestantism spread over England, celebrating Halloween lost its sense of many since their new religion doesn't believe in saints. However, as the American culture of trick or treating and the tradition of costume-wearing became more popular than ever, English children have adapted the practice without really knowing or believing in its rationale.

Unlike most nations of the world, Halloween is not celebrated by the French in order to honor the dead and departed ancestors, but as a mere ‘American’ holiday. It was virtually unknown and non-existent in the country until around 1996.

No knives are visible in Germany the night of the Hallows. The Germans keep and put away their knives, axes, and other sharp objects because they do not want to harm befalling the return of the spirits during Halloween.

Hong Kong
The Halloween celebration in Hong Kong is known as "Yue Lan" (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts). During their festival, it is believed that hungry spirits roam around the land of the living for a whole day. Many people follow the tradition of burning pictures of fruit and money, believing that these images would reach the spirit world and bring comfort to the ghosts who are tired and hungry from traveling from the world of the dead.

Ireland is believed to be the birthplace of Halloween; with the same traditions observed as it is in the United States.

As the children trick or treat, the adults attend reunions and parties after they visiting the graves of their dead relatives. They also eat a traditional food during the Halloween called "barmbrack," a type of fruitcake which has a muslin-wrapped treat hidden inside it, which can tell their fortune.

The Japanese celebrate the "Obon Festival,” locally known as "Matsuri". Unlike most of the countries, they celebrate it every July or August, depending on their Lunar Calendar. They dedicate this day to their ancestors, preparing special foods that would please them. They also light bright red lanterns and hung them everywhere. Floating lanterns are also lit and released into rivers and seas. This is to help the spirits of their ancestors find their way back to their families.

Japanese families also return home to their rural origins to clean memorial stones of their ancestors as community dances and performances are presented.

In Korea, the festival in which they remember the dead is called "Chusok." During this celebration, the Koreans spend the time to thank their ancestors for their fruits of labor and the comfort that they are experiencing now because of their hard work. They leave fruit and rice offerings at their tombs every August.

Mexico, Latin America, and Spain
Spanish-colonized countries have a common celebration of the Halloween, known as the "El Dia De Los Muertos."

Unlike some solemn and spiritual observance, El Dia De Los Muertos is a joyous, festive and loud holiday. Basically, it’s a large party thrown for the departed. Every November 2nd, people gather in streets in their costumes—commonly of skulls and skeletons and have a parade of colors and music. A live person is placed inside a coffin and paraded through the streets. Vendors toss fruit, flowers, and candies into the casket.

It is a three-day celebration that begins on the evening of October 31st. Many families also create a made up altar with photos of their departed relatives and decorate it with their offerings such as fruits, candies, flowers and their favorite goodies back when they were still alive.

Candles are also lit to help the spirits find their way home back to their families. Some also clean the gravesite sites and tombstones, and adorn them with flowers, light candles and offer some prayers.

Halloween is known in Sweden as the "Alla Helgons Dag" and is celebrated from October 31 until November 6. As with many other holidays, this festival has an eve which is either celebrated or becomes a shortened working day.

Although people from every part of the globe differ in expressing how dearly they miss their deceased loved ones—through a solemn prayer or a happy parade, spirits of the departed are remembered as their lives and legacies are celebrated on Halloween or All Soul’s Day.


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