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Halloween Traditions from Around the World

Picture of Dia de los Muertos.

Happy spooky season! As many of us prepare for trick-or-treaters and plan to attend costume parties, other countries and cultures are preparing for celebrations of their own. This week, we're taking a look at how Halloween is celebrated around the world:

Mexico: Día de los Muertos

El Día de los Muertos falls between October 31 through November 2, when families can briefly be reunited with the souls of their deceased relatives. It is believed that on the Day of the Dead, the border between spirits and the living dissolve, allowing time for families to eat, drink, and dance with their loved ones. Families leave favorite foods and other offerings at gravesites or on ofrendas built in their homes, which may be decorated with candles and bright marigolds (cempasuchil).  


Ireland and Scotland: Samhain

A Gaelic festival marking the end of harvest season and beginning of winter, Samhain celebrations begin the evening of October 31 and last through November 1. Similar to the Day of the Dead, it is believed that during this time, the spirit world and the living are able to intermingle. Samhain was first mentioned in early Irish literature dating back to the 9th century, where it was said that the celebration was marked by gatherings involving opened burial mounds, which were considered to be portals to the spirit world.


Japan: Halloween Trains

Since Tokyo Disneyland first hosted its Halloween celebration in 2000, the holiday has grown in popularity across the country. Because trick or treating does not take place, most of the fun is left to the adults. Celebrated through street parties, parades, and home gatherings, citizens show off their creative skills through elaborate costumes. One of the more unexpected places of celebration? Trains. Typically a quiet place to catch a ride, during Halloween, trains transform into places of celebration with unique themes (think zombies, vampires, and other spooky characters).


Italy: Ognissanti

Celebrated on November 1, Ognissanti is how Italy celebrates All Saints Day. Dating back to the 4th century AD, Ognissanti is a day for Italians to honor the martyrs and saints of the Catholic Church. The following day, November 2, is known as Giorno dei Morti, or Day of the Dead. Although this is primarily a time to be with family and attend mass, each region has its own rituals and traditions. In Sicily, it’s believed that the dead bring sweets or small gifts to well-behaved children, and in the Lombardy region, it’s customary to leave a vase full of water in the kitchen for the dead to drink when they visit during the night.  


Guatemala: Festival de Barriletes Gigantes

A colorful celebration, Guatemala’s Barriletes Gigantes is a festival held at the beginning of November to honor All Saints Day and the Day of the Dead. Vibrant, handmade kites soar over the cemeteries of Santiago Sacatepéquez and Sumpango. The kite flying practice, a 3,000-year-old tradition, was believed to be a way to communicate with the deceased. The kites are works of art constructed of paper, cloth patches, and bamboo, representing symbols of their ancestry and contemporary social issues. 


Phillipines: Pangangaluwa

Pangangaluluwa is a Filipino practice for honoring souls that have passed. On the evening of All Saints Day (November 1), children dress up in a white sheet to look like ghosts, or souls stuck in purgatory, and knock on doors to sing and ask for prayers – sometimes, the children receive treats. Pangangaluluwa is also a time for families to gather at cemeteries to remember their loved ones with plenty of food, games, and share stories of the past. 


Costa Rica: Día Nacional de la Mascarada Costarricense

Every October 31, Dia de la Mascarada is celebrated throughout Costa Rica. Participants wear large, colorful handmade masks and dance through the streets to folk music - a 200-year-old tradition traced back to pre-Colombian customs and carnival. The most significant parades occur in Cartago, Escazu, and Barva de Heredia, well-known cities for their mask-making skills. These aren't your typical masks but rather intricate, oversized paper mache heads representing characters from pop culture, mythology, and political figures. The cimarron bands' music played during the parade is one of Costa Rica's oldest traditions.

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