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The Gap Year Blog

5 Halloween Festivals Around The World

31 Oct 2017 12:15 PM

Happy Halloween! Halloween has quickly grown to become one of the most internationally celebrated festivities around. Whilst most of us simply love to dress up and go trick or treating, there are some places in the world where the holiday has deep traditional roots. Read on to learn about some of the world’s most ghoulish Halloween festivals.  

Día de los Muertos, Mexico

pixabay | Pexels

Día de los Muertos, more commonly known as “Day of the Dead”, is probably the one of the most well-known Halloween festivals around. However, although it is celebrated right next to Halloween, from 31st October until 2nd November, it is actually a little different from Halloween. Day of the Dead is in fact a day to celebrate death, or more specifically, the deceased, whilst Halloween plays on our biggest fears. The original Aztec event was actually a month long but Mexico was turned catholic by the Spanish conquistadores, the celebration became intertwined with All Saints Day on the 1st November and All Souls Day on the 2nd November. Those who celebrate Día de los Muertos put up altars honoring deceased members of the family, decorating them with candles, sugar skulls, marigolds and food. 

Obon Festival, Japan

Kadena | Tara A. Williamson

Similar to the Día de los Muertos festival in Mexico, it is tradition in Japan for locals to honour the dead and the spirits of their ancestors. Obon, or Bon, is a national festival in Japan that is religiously significant, with deep cultural roots. As the festival is based on tradition, it doesn’t quite fall on the Western Halloween dates; it lasts for 3 days and falls on the 13th-15th day of the lunar calendar (13th-15th August) in some regions, whilst in others, specifically those using the modern Gregorian calendar like Tokyo, it will be celebrated in July.

The Japanese Festival of The Dead is marked by numerous religious and festive activities, and The Japanese believe that at the start of Obon, the spirits of their ancestors come back from beyond the grave to visit them.

The Hungry Ghost Festival, Hong Kong

Flickr | denise chan

A similarly traditional festival, The Hungry Ghost Festival, also known as Yu Lan, focuses on ancestor worship and honoring the dead. Much like Obon Festival, The Hungry Ghost Festival falls in the seventh month of the lunar calendar, which is believed to be when “restless spirits roam the earth” according to traditions, and the month is known as “Ghost Month”.

Taoists and Buddhists perform to absolve the sufferings of the deceased and some of the rituals most commonly practiced include roadside fires, the burning of fake money and sacrificial offerings such as leaving food out for the deceased; elaborate meals, often vegetarian, will be served at an empty seat as if the deceased were still alive. 

Live performances are often held, and everyone is invited to attend. The first row of seats is kept empty, as this is where the spirits are seated. Chinese opera is the main source of entertainment, where performers and praise and worship the gods for their great deeds. 

Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, New York

Flickr | Anne Ruthmann

In America, they celebrate Halloween like they celebrate everything else; with a bang! Halloween in America is considered nearly as bigger deal as Christmas, with everyone from all over the country dressing up and putting on festivities to celebrate all things spooky! In none other than New York City, there is the famous Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, which is routinely one of the biggest spectacles in the city. The parade features hundreds of puppets making their way down Sixth Avenue, and anyone is allowed to participate, under one condition… you MUST be in costume!

Samhain Bram Stoker Festival, Ireland 

Flickr | William Murphy

Few know of Halloween’s Celtic ancient roots in the Samhain festival. In Ireland about 2,000 years ago, Samhain was a traditional Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, or the “darker half” of the year. Samhain fell when the division between this world and the underworld was as its thinnest, therefore allowing spirits to pass through. Family ancestors were honoured and invited home, whilst harmful spirits were warded off. People wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves as harmful spirits to avoid them and Bonfires and food would play a large part in the festivities. The early Irish manuscripts are littered with references to the magical significance of Samhain.

With Samhain celebrations originating in Ireland, there’s no surprise that they celebrate the ghostly holiday in true style. The Bram Stoker Festival in Ireland, aptly named after the author of Dracula, Bram Stoker, runs over 4 days of the Halloween period and has something for everyone. With a spooky parade, screenings, live music, comedy shows and more, there really is something for everyone. 

So it turns out Halloween has more ancient roots than expected! With some amazing Halloween festivals around the world, the spooky holiday is becoming something of a travel mini-season – these festivals are a definite must, and something different to do at Halloween - but for now, enjoy everything you have planned this spooky evening...

By Fran Collis - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservation, community, teaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!