As today is Halloween here in the UK, the Webcertain team has been sharing the different experiences we have of this “festival” or similar kinds of celebrations in our native countries –as well as getting into the spirit with some costumes and carved pumpkins!
The idea of Halloween goes back many years; some say to old pagan traditions of honouring and remembering the dead, while others claim it was borne from Christianity and the idea of revering the Saints (Hallow means “to make holy”).
Of course, as time goes on things evolve and change, and many of the Halloween festivities of today bear little resemblance to those olden days – yet many nations around the world have celebrations which have their roots in the same traditions.
The UK is widely believed to be the birthplace of Halloween, and while the Christian meaning of this day has been somewhat lost, dressing up as anything from witches to monsters to cats, and trick-or-treating round local houses is popular, especially amongst children. The premise is that when asked trick-or-treat, you give the revellers a treat (often sweets and chocolate) or prepare to expect a trick – most people seem to pick the treat option!
However, no nation quite loves Halloween like the USA. While not a public holiday, it’s an event that most Americans get involved with and you’re likely to see many adults and children in fancy dress, carrying pumpkins and wandering the streets after dark. The New York Halloween parade boasts over 50,000 participants, with hundreds of thousands more attending to watch or following it on TV.
Although many other countries don’t officially recognise Halloween, the increasing influence of America culture, as well as the prevalence of US and UK ex-pat communities has led to an upscale in Halloween parties and events around the world.
Japan is one such country. Increasingly influenced by Western culture, Halloween is a recent addition to the Japanese calendar with the customs of dressing up and carrying pumpkins taking off. This week, in a Tokyo Suburb, a Halloween parade took place with 2,500 participants and over 60,000 spectators.
All Saints Day
All Saints Day is an important Catholic celebration on 1st November, and given as a public holiday in many Catholic countries. It is traditionally a day to honour The Saints and in many countries such as France, Poland, Spain, and Italy, families will visit the graves of relatives, taking flowers and lighting candles. This tradition is slowly waning, and has become more important to the older generations than the younger and while Halloween in the UK/US sense, has not really taken off, there is more interest than there has ever been before.
Day of the Dead
This is particularly a Mexican celebration. Known as Dia de Muertos, the Day of the Dead takes place on 2nd November, and is a public holiday. Families will all come together and prepare offerings for their deceased relatives, with the tradition stating that a table is prepared featuring the favourite food and drinks of the departed. There is even a special food – Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead) – which is a sponge cake, decorated to represent bones and many bakeries will sell sugar skulls. It is also recognised in other Latin American countries.
St Andrews Day
This is one you might not expect to be listed here – for most of us in the UK, we’d associate St Andrew’s Day with Scotland, as he is their patron saint, and wouldn’t expect any specific celebrations associated with that. But in Romania, St Andrew or Sf Andrei is also an important saint and the celebrations on this day – 30th November – have more of a connection to Halloween, as the legend states that on this day, the dead will live again and have the capacity to perform magic.
Another tradition on this day is putting garlic around your house to protect yourself from evil spirits – perhaps not surprising in a land which contains Transylvania – the home of the infamous vampire, Dracula!
Halloween is definitely not an event on the Chinese calendar but there they do have their own celebration of the deceased. Qingming takes place on 4th or 5th of April, and is known as Tomb-sweeping Day, when people visit their family tombs, tidying the graves and sacrificing food and drink. This tradition is becoming less widespread as more people are now cremated but families will still remember the dead on this day.
However, Qingming is not only about the dead but about welcoming the spring and taking a family outing. Families will enjoy nature, fly kites with lanterns attached and celebrate the turning of the seasons.
What will you be doing?
Halloween serves as a reminder that traditions, customs and celebrations are not the same all over the world. While there is no denying the influence of the US in particular on popular culture across the globe, the traditions and values of old remain important and prevalent.
So tonight, will you be dressing up like a witch, lighting a candle, covering your house in garlic – or something completely different? Whatever it might be – Happy Halloween!