Halloween Around the World

The tradition of Halloween traces back to a pre-Christian Celtic Festival celebrated across present day northern Europe. The festival, called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween) marked the beginning of a new year. On the last night of every year, it was believed that the dead wandered amongst the living waiting to finally pass through to the otherworld once the new year began. People gathered food and lit bonfires to aid the dead on their journey.

Hundreds of years later, when Catholic missionaries sought to convert the Celts to Christianity, they changed the name and altered the purpose of the celebration. Samhain became All Saints Day or All Hallows. They still celebrated the wandering dead, but now the dead were thought to be only evil and the food was seen as a way to keep them at bay. People began to dress like ghosts, fairies, and demons, and eventually All Hallows Eve evolved into the Halloween we celebrate today.

Halloween has been long popular in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and the United States. It was not until recent decades that the holiday spread to other countries. Japan is amongst those areas where Halloween is a relatively new holiday. It is seen as a great excuse to dress up and have parades. This past Sunday, the city of Kawasaki threw a Halloween parade with 2,500 participants and more than 100,000 spectators. However, trick-or-treating has yet to catch on. The same is true for most European countries as well, where Halloween seems to be mostly celebrated by young adults. In recent years, people in Russia and Jordan began to celebrate the holiday as well. However, both countries have placed restrictions on the holidays. Jordan’s Interior Ministry banned all celebrations this year saying they posed security risks. Some Russian Politicians called for a ban against public celebrations of Halloween for reasons of safety and preserving culture.


Children in Japan celebrate Halloween – source: Japantimes

Another similar celebration in Mexico and other Latin American countries is Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). The three-day celebration honors the dead. Traditionally, many families tidy up and decorate their relatives gravesites, and then burn candles and incense to help the dead find their way home. At home, the families construct an altar to the dead which is decorated with flowers, photographs, candy, drinks, and the favorite foods of the deceased relatives.

November 1 is All Saints’ Day. For some, Halloween is the eve of All Saints’ Day, and All Saints Day is part of the celebration of the second day of Dia de los Meurtos. Catholics around the world celebrate by attending mass and decorating the graves of deceased relatives with flowers and candles.

all saints day Poland catholic-org

A graveyard on All Saints’ Day in Poland – source: catholic.org