Have your broomstick at the ready, we're flying around the world to see how Halloween is celebrated in every corner of the globe.
The sight of crisp, brown leaves falling to the floor, mile-long queues at Starbucks (hello, Pumpkin Spice Lattes) and a sudden surge of knitwear are all sure signs that autumn has arrived. And with autumn comes everyone’s favourite time of year – Halloween.
Here at Travioor HQ we’ve already started planning our Halloween costumes (have you seen Stranger Things?). But before we get lost in the Upside-Down, let’s go on a trip around the world to see how Halloween is celebrated elsewhere (cue The Clash ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’).
Long before we all started dressing up as Harley Quinn and the Joker for Halloween, the inhabitants of Celtic Ireland were lighting fires to ward off evil spirits as summer ended and winter began. It was thought that the dead returned to earth at this time, more commonly known as Samhain. This was believed to be the original festival of the dead, beginning almost two centuries before Christianity introduced All Saint’s Day in the 8th century.
Ancient Halloween traditions such as eating the ‘fortune-teller’ barmbrack fruit loaf are still continued today. It's tradition to add a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a coin and a ring into the mix. The person with the slice containing a pea wouldn’t marry that year; the stick indicated an unhappy marriage; the cloth was a sign of poverty and the coin was a sign of wealth. If you were lucky enough to find a ring you would be married that year. Cheaper than a visit to Mystic Meg isn’t it?
Nowadays, Ireland has joined the masses, dressing up in the scariest of outfits to go trick-or-treating or dancing the night away at a Halloween ball. Head to the capital for the Samhain Halloween Parade, which sees spooky floats and even spookier people parade from Parnell Square to Temple Bar, ending with a magnificent fireworks display. Find a hotel around Temple Bar if you want to be in the thick of the action. You could even stay at the Shelbourne Dublin on St.Stephens Green for a truly haunting experience. It's believed to be haunted by the ghost of former resident Mary Masters, a little girl who died of cholera in 1791. Better keep an eye out in those corridors.
Halloween in Mexico, Latin America and some parts of Spain is overshadowed by the bigger, religious festival of Dia de los Muertos. Day of the Dead celebrations begin on the 31st of October with Dia de las Brujas (Day of the Witches). It is believed to be a time to honour the dead, with spirits returning once a year to their earthly home. On the 1st of November, Dia de Todos los Santos (All Saints Day), families gather at the graves of their deceased relatives to clean and paint the gravestones before laying flowers and toasting life and passed loved ones. Families also spend time creating an 'altar' in their home which is decorated with candles, flowers, photographs and the favourite food and drink of the deceased relative to welcome them home. Elsewhere in the house, candles and incense are burnt, in order to guide the spirit home.
Day of the Dead is typically associated with sugar skulls, skeletons, papel picado (tissue decorations) and offrendas (altars) so it does have similarities to Halloween. However, it is taken a lot more seriously than the supposed spookiness and tomfoolery of Halloween, with a bigger focus on religion and spirituality. Despite its origins, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated around the worldwide and is very popular in areas such as Los Angeles which has a large Mexican population.
The US is famed for its extravagant Halloween celebrations which include haunted houses, mass parades, pumpkin-carving and trick-or-treating. If you want to experience Halloween in all its over-the-top, commercialised (but ridiculously fun) glory then a trip to the States is a must. You'll find some sort of spooky goings-on no matter which town or city you visit but if you want to re-live the Hocus Pocus nightmares of your youth, head to New England. Salem, Massachusetts is an obvious choice giving its 'witch trial' history but other areas such as Vermont and Maine are equally as worthy with a plentiful amount of ghost stories and creepy graveyards. Small towns such as Bar Harbor and Stowe are perfect for fun family pumpkin-carving and haunted woods walk for those feeling a little braver. You could always stay in one of the many haunted bed and breakfasts in New England such as Captain Grant's in Connecticut, which has been featured on a psychic TV programme (so you know it's the real deal).
But if the threat of a ghost peering over your bed isn't enough of a scare then you need to head to the big cities. Go to Las Vegas for the Fright Dome, described as 'One of the most extreme haunted houses in the world' if you really want to test your scare-levels. The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia is also guaranteed to give you nightmares: run from the 'escaped' prisoners, face your fears at the 4D Quarantine or traverse the pitch-black cell block and labyrinth at the Terror Behind the Walls experience.
Undoubtedly, the US know how to do in Halloween in style. Whether you're running for your life in a zombie maze or meandering from door to door showing off your costume and collecting candy, once you've experienced Halloween in the US nothing else will ever match up.
Yu Lan, the Hungry Ghost Festival, is Hong Kong's answer to Halloween. Falling on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month (between the 17th of August and 5th of September), this month-long celebration focuses more on worshipping deceased ancestors than dressing up and collecting candy. The seventh month is believed to be a time when the gates of hell are opened and restless spirits roam the earth. Families lay out old paintings and photos on a table, burn incense and feast together, leaving a place open at the table for returning spirits, who are believed to be very hungry having roamed the land since the beginning of the Hungry Ghost month. Taoist monks are said to chant to make the ghosts leave and families also float river lanterns on little boats in the belief that ghosts will follow the lanterns and return to hell.
Elsewhere in China, Halloween-esque celebrations take place on the first full moon of the New Year (July) during Teng Cheih, the Lantern Festival. People light lanterns to encourage spirits back to earth and it is even believed that the light from the lanterns will make their presence visible to the living. Happy, hopeful messages are written across the lanterns to ward off evil. Like many Halloween parties, this event includes fireworks, dancing and even a dragon parade - probably a lot more graceful than a mass of zombies parading down the streets of NYC.
Halloween celebrations in Sweden stretch from the 31st of October to the 6th of November. Whilst many, most noticeably in the capital Stockholm, have succumbed to the clever commercial marketing that insists Halloween is about dressing up, gorging on sweets and chocolate and carving pumpkins, Alla Helgons Dag (All Saints Day) is more important to the people of Sweden. Families gather together to light candles and lanterns to place on the graves of lost loved ones. This normally follows or precedes a trip to church for a special mass. If you happen to be visiting Sweden at this time it's definitely worth a trip to a graveyard. Sounds bizarre we know, but the sea of lights is a sight to behold.
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