Halloween traditions from around the world:
In a lot of Latin American countries, All Soul’s Day on November 2nd is a recognized religious holiday, but nowhere is it celebrated quite like Mexico. In Mexico, the day is known as Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). Some traditions – such as kids dressing up in traditionally skeleton motifs and eating an awful lot of candy – may be familiar to those who celebrate Halloween, but Dia de los Muertos is actually a rich mixture of Aztec and European tradition.
The Aztec festival was a week-long celebration when the souls of the departed would return to the realm of the living, but with the arrival of the Spanish, the colonial rulers of Mexico tried to co-opt this festival into the celebration of the Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
The festival of the dead in Japan is held in August rather than October, and is known as Obon. As with many such festivals, this day commemorates the return of the dead to the land of the living, but unlike Halloween, the returning spirits are not malevolent. On Obon, the spirits of the dead return to visit their loved ones, and many Japanese Buddhists prepare special food for the returning spirits, which they place in temples and in their homes. Obon is also known as the Festival of Lanterns, because the celebration ends with families sending paper lanterns down Japan’s rivers, to guide the spirits back to the realm of the dead until the next year.
In China, the Hungry Ghost Festival also features use of lanterns but rather than a single day, the festival lasts an entire month, during which time the souls of the dead are free to roam the earth. Rather than guiding benevolent spirits back to the realm of the dead, the lanterns are used to ward off potentially malevolent spirits. Like in Japan, food and gifts are also offered to family members who have passed. Offerings are also made to other, unknown wondering spirits to placate them, and prevent them from coming into a household and brining bad luck.
Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine
In certain countries in the Middle East, Arab Christians celebrate Eid il-Burbura (Festival of Saint Barbara) on December 4th. As with Halloween in the US, children dress up in costume and go from door to door. The holiday has its origins in the story of Saint Barbara, who took on many different disguises in order to evade the persecution. According to the story, Saint Barbara ran through a freshly planted wheat field while fleeing the Romans, which grew instantly to cover her path and help her escape. Today, seeds are planted ceremonially, and harvested in time for Christmas when they are used to decorate the nativity scene below Christmas trees.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman
Qarqu’an is a traditional holiday that has existed for hundreds of years, and is celebrated annually in many Arabic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman. During the month of Ramadan, children dress in traditional clothing and gather in front of homes to sing in order to receive candies, sweets, and nuts. Although similar to Halloween, the tradition is not connected to death, but is rather is intended to spread happiness and affection among adults and children.