Halloween in the United States is a holiday that has recently started gaining popularity around the world, but no other country celebrates Halloween quite like us. Despite this, Halloween as a holiday does have its roots in old Celtic and Catholic holidays that are celebrated to this day in much of the world. I decided to do a little reading on some of the interesting holidays celebrated around the world on this day.
Ireland is the ancestral home of Halloween, where many of the traditions we know and love today in the United States have become very popular. Despite commonly held beliefs about the holiday’s origins in Ireland, most of the history of All Hallow’s Eve as a Celtic holiday is up for debate. The Celtic culture was largely wiped out of history by Roman and Christian invasions, so there are almost no written records of their religious rites. Despite this, we do know that the holiday was called Samhain (pronounced Sowen) and that it celebrated the New Year on November 1st. The reason for all of the spooky aspects is that the Celts supposedly believed that the night before the New Year was in between years, making it time the when the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest. From this sprang many traditions, such as dressing up as scary monsters in order to ward off evil spirits.
Mexico: Dia de los Muertos
Perhaps the most famous October celebration in the world, aside from Halloween, the Day of the Dead in Mexico is a colorful celebration of the deceased. Dia de los Muertos shares the same pagan roots as Halloween, but it is an entirely separate celebration. Despite the name, this holiday is not just a one day event. Rather, it spreads over three days from October 31st until November 2, combining the Christian holidays of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. Traditionally, this holiday is meant to celebrate deceased loved ones, rather than fear mortality. Because of this, many celebrants visit cemeteries with food in order to join their deceased loved ones in a meal, as well as dressing in festive colors and painting their faces like skeletons. The holiday is meant to revel in the memories of the dead, rather than focusing on the loss of loved ones or the fear of death.
In Sweden, Halloween isn’t celebrated, but much like many other Christian countries, All Hallow’s Eve is celebrated. In recent years, rather than being celebrated on on October 31st or November 1st, it is now on whichever date Saturday falls between October 31st and November 6th. On this day, many Swedes visit their deceased loved ones in cemeteries, bringing candles or lanterns, flowers, and wreaths to leave on the graves. Until recently, stores and restaurants closed for the holiday, but this is not always the case anymore. However, many people still take the day off to pay respect to their ancestors.
Italy: Ognissanti & Giorno dei Morti
In Italy, there is no holiday celebrated traditionally on October 31st. Like in many places around the world, the American form of the holiday has been picked up to some extent, but is not widespread. More commonly, Italians celebrate the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, or Ognissanti and Giorno dei Morti respectively. These holidays are celebrated together on November 1st and 2nd and both are intended to pay respect to the dead. In the week leading up to these holidays, Italians flock to cemeteries in order to clean up graves, leave fresh flowers, and visit tombs of relatives or friends who are buried farther away. Ognissanti itself is a state holiday, so everyone gets the day off. Like in Sweden, candles are a traditional part of the holiday, but in this case, many Italians light one red candle in their windows to commemorate the dead.