Halloween is one of the world’s oldest holidays. It is believed to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when the Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.
It took a bit for Halloween to come to America, however. Celebration of the holiday was limited in colonial New England because of the rigid Protestant belief system there, but was more common in the southern colonies. The first celebrations in America included “play parties” which were held to celebrate the harvest. Neighbors would gather to share stories of the dead, read one another’s fortunes, dance, and sing.
By the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants, particularly Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. The influx of Irish immigrants, coupled with English traditions, led Americans to begin dressing up in costumes to go house-to-house asking for food or money, a practice that evolved into today’s “trick-or-treat.”
Today, Halloween-like celebrations take place around the world. Let’s take a look at Halloween around the world.
Dia De Los Muertos – Mexico
Dia de los Muertos – Day of the Dead – is celebrated from October 31 through November 2 throughout Mexico. It’s not Halloween, but rather a way that All Souls Day is brought to life. The celebration remembers the deceased by telling their stories and celebrating their lives. Families plan feasts, serve skull-shaped treats, dance, and have parades to remember and celebrate their ancestors.
Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival – Ireland
As the birthplace of Halloween, Ireland of course has one of the biggest Halloween celebrations, the Sprits of Meath Halloween Festival in County Meath. Halloween is celebrated throughout the country with bonfires, party games, and traditional food, such as barmbrack, an Irish fruitcake that contains coins, buttons, rings, and other fortunetelling objects. Fortunetelling itself is an old Irish tradition. For instance, if a young woman gets a ring that has been baked into a pastry, bread, or even mashed potatoes, she will be married by next Halloween. Tricks, too, are played throughout Ireland on Halloween, particularly by mischievous kids.
All Saints Day – Germany
Germany celebrates Halloween as All Sants Day. In southern Germany, its celebrated from October 30 through November 8. Typically, All Saints Day is spent attending church, honoring saints who have died for the Catholic faith, and visiting and remembering the dead, usually at gravesides. Germans also hide their knives so the returning dead won’t be harmed during their visit.
Guy Fawkes Day – England
On November 5, England celebrates Guy Fawkes Day with bonfires and fireworks. The English, for the most part, stopped celebrating Halloween as Marin Luther’s Protestant Reformation began to spread. As followers of the new religion did not believe in saints, they had no reason to celebrate the eve of All Saints’ Day. Guy Fawkes Day emerged, however, as a way to commemorate the execution of a notorious English traitor, one Guy Fawkes.
Fawkes was executed on November 5, 1606 after being convicted of attempting to blow up England’s parliament building. He was a part of a catholic group who wanted to remove Protestant King James from power. The first Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated right after his execution, included bonfires which were called “bone fires” and set up to burn effigies and symbolic “Bones” of the Catholic pope. Two centuries later, those effigies were replaced with those of Guy Fawkes. In addition to making Guy Fawkes effigies, children in some parts of England also walk the streets carrying an effigy or “guy” and asking for “a penny for the guy” which they keep for themselves.
Halloween around the world varies. How do you celebrate Halloween?