As Halloween approaches children and adults alike start their preparations for this much awaited date. Halloween is no longer regarded as a holiday marketed from the U.S. to the rest of the world. Many countries around the world have adopted this festivity (the American version of it) and it has become part of their holiday calendar. As we research more about this haunted night of celebration, we find that many countries have their own version of it, one not related to the traditional American way.
Holidays and festivities are a core part of a country’s culture, with many similar, but also many different ways of approaching a celebration. So, in order to be accurate when dealing with a project related to this topic, we’d better know what we are talking about and that way avoid hurting someone – or a nation’s feelings. So let’s take a tour around the world and see how other countries celebrate this date.
Let’s start where it all began, in good old Ireland. Halloween originated in Leprechaun country, and was known as Oíche Shamhna or November Night, and it involves bonfires (in the rural areas). It was originally celebrated by Celts, blending Druidic and Catholic traditions, and the more classic costumed trick-or-treating. There’s one traditional meal called Barmbrack, a yeasted bread filled with grapes and raisins known as Halloween Brack. The tradition is to hide an item (a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin – a silver sixpence back in the day, and a ring). As people munched on it, if an item were to be found, it would foresee the future for that person. If you find the Pea, it means you won’t be getting married that year, the stick means fights and arguments or an unhappy marriage, the cloth means bad luck, the coin means richness and the ring marriage. As we move through Europe, we find celebrations in places such as Sweden where it is called “Alla Helgons Dag,” and it goes on for an entire week (my kind of celebration). In Germany, people hide their knives on Halloween night, to avoid harm from the returning spirits. The British celebrate “All Souls’ Day” on November 2. France does not celebrate Halloween, as we are used to; there, it is regarded as an American holiday and it is rejected by some. They do, however, celebrate the Toussaint (contraction for Tous les Saints) or All Saints Day. In France, this a public holiday and it is celebrated on November 1st. Actually, there are 2 distinct celebrations happening in France, the Toussaint on November 1st, and the Commémoration des fidèles défunts or All Souls Day on November 2nd. Commemorating those departed is supposed to occur on November 2nd, but since Toussaint is a public holiday, it is the chosen time to attend church services or go to the cemetery and honor their loved ones.
Asia is not excluded from this celebration as we find similar references in Japan, China, Korea and the Lebanon. Japanese celebrate the “Obon Festival” AKA “Matsuri” or “Urabon,” a similar festivity to Halloween. It involves lighting candles during the entire festival to let their bonfires be lit to show their ancestors where their relatives can be found. The Chinese celebrate Teng Chieh, when food and water is placed next to pictures of their gone loved ones and candles in lanterns are lit to light the way for the spirits traveling that night. In Korea, the honoring festivity takes place in August, and it is called “Chusok.” Families thank their departed for the fruit of their labor and make offerings of rice and fruit. The Christian Lebanese celebrate St. Barbara’s Day, or Eid-il-Burbara in Arabic on December 4th. Similar to the American version, children dress up and collect candy going from door to door yelling heyshlee Barbara which means Run Away Barbara. Barbara was a Roman girl, daughter of the governor of the Roman city of Baalbek who was kept locked in a tower – much like Rapunzel’s story, but with no happy ending, since she was sentenced to death by her father by decapitation. She remains a Saint to many Lebanese. On this celebration, the most common treat is Burbara, a pudding made of boiled barley, sugar, raisins and pomegranate seeds.
And finally, moving to our side of the pond, we have the traditional American celebration which also takes place, with the same magnitude in Canada. But maybe the most colorful and flowery of all is the Day of the Dead in Mexico, on November 1st. In Mexico, this a public holiday, and families get together to pray for their family members who have passed away. Vigils take place at cemeteries called the “Alumbrada.” A traditional Pan de muerto (Bread of the Dead) is made and they drink the popular Champurrado (the chocolate version of the masa drink Atole).
So, as we can see, there many similar ways to honor the departed. And next time you come across a project related to cultural festivities, take some time to research and be accurate.