The History of Halloween & How It’s Celebrated Around The World
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
The originally Celtic holiday originated to celebrate the end of summer and the start of the cold seasons, as well as the start of the new Celtic year. The night of Hallows Eve was believed to be a special occasion when spirits and ghosts would emerge to cause mischief in the living world.
Primarily a Western tradition, Halloween has been popularized in recent years in other areas, such as in Asia and Latin America due to Western pop culture. Additionally, many countries have other similar celebrations that fall around the same time. While these celebrations are not equivalent to Halloween, many revolve around death and the honoring of ancestors or spirits.
As the holiday developed, traditions of parties and costume-wearing emerged as well and are still very common in Ireland, the United Kingdom and other parts of Eurpoe. Today in Derry, Northern Ireland, the biggest celebration of Halloween has been taking place since the 1980’s. More than 90,000 attended last year’s festival, which consists of a week-long carnival of parties, costume-wearing, and fun.
One thing is shared among the countries that participate in Halloween festivities in Asia: parties. Halloween made its way to Asia through Western influences, especially American influence. Today, locals, expatriates, and students studying abroad participate in a number of Halloween parties. In Hong Kong, for instance, locals decorate public recreation areas and participate in large parties on October 31st. Thanks to a large Western influence, such as the arrival of Disneyland and other big corporations in Hong Kong and Japan, these countries started to plan big costume parties much like the ones here in the U.S.
Similar to Asia, some countries in South America have started to celebrate Halloween in the form of partying on October 31st. In Colombia, costume parties and trick-or-treating for kids have become common in the last decades. The influence, as in other countries, is relatively new and mostly celebrated in large cities, such as the Bogota. In Cali, a city southwest of Bogota, the annual Moto Halloween party takes place and consists of costumed locals riding in motorcycles throughout Cali to celebrate a night of mischief. In large metropolitan areas of Brazil, Halloween celebrations are common in Brazilian night life, such as in bars and nightclubs.
Día de Muertos, also widely known as Día de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead” in English), is a celebration of life and death and an honor to one’s ancestors. Prior to Western Civilization in the Americas, this holiday was celebrated by Mexican indigenous people in early summer. The Western influence introduced other elements to the holiday as well as adapting the date of the celebration to November 1st and 2nd, as the commonly celebrated Western holiday of All Saints Day was fused with the indigenous Día de Muertos. This celebration has been adapted by people of Mexican heritage in the U.S. as well as other countries, such as Chile.
Fet Gede, or Feast of the Dead, in Haiti is celebrated the first two days of November consists of a voodoo feast, and processions to graveyards, where practitioners of voodoo visit graves, dress as spirits, play music, dance, and gift food and flowers to ancestral spirits. The spiritual event is similar to Day of the Dead, but encompasses voodoo rituals that made its way to Haiti through the African slave trade.
Canada’s Halloween traditions are most similar to U.S. traditions. Canadians dress up, eat candy, and carve pumpkins. Jack-o-lanterns can be seen spread out on Canadian porches, houses are decorated, fireworks are lit, and children dressed in costume can be seen on the streets.
Check out these impressive jack-o-lantern structures in Upper Canada Village near Ottawa, Ontario from last year. Trees and dragon structures can be seen made up of jack-o-lanterns with fun carvings.
An interesting Halloween tradition in Canada is to set off fireworks and firecrackers. This tradition is so prominent, that some cities have banned the use of fireworks on the holiday. Last year in Vancouver a petition was started to ban fireworks on Halloween, due to complaints of week-long firework sounds disrupting sleep, causing fires, and even injuries. In Richmond, British Columbia, however, a large Halloween Fireworks Festival occurs on October 31st. Families gather at parks in Richmond, making it more of a family gathering rather than a mischievous night. The Minoru Park is perhaps the most famous park that hosts fireworks shows as well as pyrotechnic shows, other performances and has an inflatable corn maze.
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