Halloween Traditions

In the spirit of Halloween, I figured I’d share some different cultural traditions for the holiday as well as holidays that are similar to Halloween but might not fall on October 31st. As it is, I would just like to state that I have tried to look for as many traditions as possible to allow people to have a broader understanding of the different traditions around the world; however, I have not been able to find as many as I would like to find, and I apologize for that.

I assure you that I am not trying to purposefully forget different traditions from different regions. If I have, please feel free to contact me, and I can research the tradition and update this to include that tradition. And if I have made any kind of mistake for any of these traditions, please let me know – it’s more likely that I’m just unaware of the mistake that I have made rather than intentionally trying to spread false information about different cultural traditions.

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Samhain Ritual

Originally, the tradition of Halloween as it’s known in America today stems from Celtic traditions from the holiday of Samhain, which is a day where the “veil” between the worlds of the living and the dead is the thinnest and allows for the dead to cross back into the land of the living. Typically, this also allowed priests to be able to better predict events of the future and tell people’s fortunes. All Saints’ Day, a holiday that takes place on November 1st, is a Catholic holiday stemming from Roman times and is a day meant to honor Christian and Catholic saints.

Additionally, Halloween (October 31st) was known as All Hallow’s Eve before being shortened into what we now know the holiday as – Halloween. The tradition of going trick-or-treating is American in origin, when many people in the 19th and 20th century began to dress up and go around from house to house, asking for money or candy. By the mid-20th century in America, Halloween started to transform into a secular holiday, and the tradition of hosting Halloween parties was started.

Dia de los Muertos
Dia de los Muertos facial makeup

For those celebrating the holiday inMexico and Latin America, Dia de los Meurtos (Day of the Dead) is a holiday that spans from October 31st to November 2nd and focuses on honoring and remembering loved ones that have passed on, as well as helping those spirits on their journey to the afterlife. For those who are of Mexican, Hispanic, and Latinx descent, this is a holiday of national pride and celebrates both the dead and a history of cultural pride and heritage. People who celebrate this holiday build altars for the deceased, on which they leave pictures and memorabilia of the departed as well as the favorite kinds of food and drink of the deceased. Gifts are bought and given to the deceased, and resting places are set for the departed so that they can rest on their journey to the afterlife.

Additionally, families and friends gather around the altars to tell stories and share memories of the dead and to celebrate their lives, which can help with the mourning process and make the holiday a little happier. The only caveat to this holiday, however, is that since it’s a source of national pride and heritage for those of Mexican, Hispanic, and Latinx descent, the misappropriation of the costumes and traditions of the holiday for parties and other, more Americanized aspects of the holiday is deemed as highly disrespectful and rude for those who aren’t a part of Mexican, Hispanic, and Latinx cultures.

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Food offerings for the Hungry Ghosts Festival

In Hong Kong and China, there is a tradition known as the Hungry Ghosts Festival, and the festival typically takes place during the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. It is believed that the gates of hell open up and spirits are said to roam the earth again. The spirits are believed to ancestors of those who forgot to honor them after they died, or they were never given a proper burial ritual. People typically tend to give the spirits offerings and pay tribute to them, regardless of what their relationship to the spirits are, in order to ensure that the spirits don’t harm them and so that the families can ward off bad luck.

pitru paksha festival
Food offerings for the Pitru Paksha Festival

In India, there is a holiday known as Pitru Paksha, which is a tradition stemming from the Hindu legend that states that the three preceding generations of a person’s ancestors are waiting in a realm between heaven and earth, and the realm is governed by the god of death, named Yama. Whenever a person dies, the first generation that is there ascends to heaven and unites with Brahma, and so Shradda rites are not given for them. However, the legend of Karna states that when Karna died, his soul transcended into heaven where he was offered gold and jewels as food when he instead needed real food to eat.

When Karna asked why he was given gold and jewels instead of normal food to eat, he was given the response of how he had given his life but never his food to his ancestors. Unaware of the fact that Karna was supposed to pay tribute to his ancestors, he was allowed back to earth to pay tribute to them in the proper way, and so the tradition of Pitru Paksha was born. There are specific times and places when this tradition is supposed to be performed, depending on the socioeconomic status of the person who died. The eldest son is the one who typically carries out this ritual, and food offerings are to be made to the deceased.

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Part of the Awuru Odo Festival

Nigeria has a cultural tradition known as the Awuru Odo Festival, a festival that marks the return of the deceased, and the festival can last up to 6 months at a time. As a result, the festival tends to only happen once every two years; however, it is still an important cultural holiday and is celebrated with feasts, music, and masks to celebrate the deceased.

Pchum Ben
Part of the Pchum Ben

In Cambodia, Buddhist families celebrate Pchum Ben from the end of September to the middle of October, and it is a religious holiday that celebrates the dead. Those who celebrate the holiday honor deceased family members as far back as seven generations, and it is believed that the spirits are especially active at this time of year since the gates of hell have been opened. Offerings of food are also given to appease the restless spirits as well as to honor the dead and the elderly.

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Briana Maddox View All →

As an recent college graduate who studied media studies and anthropology in college, Briana Maddox enjoys learning about different cultures, traditions, holidays, historical figures, experiences, and opinions. With a vested interest in sharing such learning experiences, Briana created Life & Anthropology in the hopes of helping other people gain a better understanding and working knowledge of such topics.

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