by Nick Tuma
Halloween traditions date back to the Celtics and their day of Samhain. When summer would end, the Celtics believed a shield protecting them would disappear. This meant that all the bad spirits would walk among them. To keep the shield working, they would have a BIG party with feasts and adult beverages. Furthermore, they would also set bonfires and make costumes to scare off the entities.
Halloween is amongst our favorite holidays in America. From witches and ghouls to trick-or-treating and scary parties, everyone has something to choose from. As Americans, we tend to only know the Halloween traditions in the United States, but these traditions tend to differ around the globe. Read on as we go over a few completely different Halloween traditions and origins than you may have not been accustomed too.
Philippines: Undás or All Saints Day
The first tradition we are covering is All Saints Day in the Philippines, or Undás. It is Filipino practice of visiting deceased family members at the cemetery. This holiday is from the early practice of Pangangaluluwa. Groups of Filipinos stop by different houses during the evening of All Saints’ Day on November 1st. Does it sound familiar? It is very similar to trick-or-treating in America. Pangangaluluwa is a much older practice. However, rural communities still celebrate this holiday in the Philippines.
Undás Traditions: the Original Halloween Trick-or-Treating
Nowadays, child blankets pretending to be ghosts and go door-to-door singing. Children also would say prayers to people that passed. These prayers could also be for animals. In return for their songs, children receive delicious soul cakes, also known as a soulmass-cake. Soulmass-cake contains nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger or other sweet spices. On top, in raisins or currants, sits a cross. Filipinos believe that when these small cakes are eaten, a soul is set free.
Furthermore, entire families and groups camp at night in the local cemeteries for Undás. They spend an entire night near their relatives’ tombs or graves. When visiting the family members’ cemetery, they clean and repair their tombs and headstones. Just imagine hanging out at the graveyard with family and friends doing a little upkeep.
Filipinos honored their dead with candles, flowers, and lots of prayers. Oftentimes, this holiday ends up resembling a family reunion and consists of over a hundred people. During All Saints Day, they eat, drink, and tell stories about their departed loved ones.
West Africa: Awuru Odo Festival
The massive festival, Awuru Odo, features the return of the dead by the people of Nigeria. This celebration occurs every two years from November to April and can last for six or more months. “Odo” are dead spirits. Nigerian tribes believe that the dead are neither gone nor forgotten. Friends and family that have passed away live for a second time. They are then reincarnated to their families for this intense festival. Similar to other African cultures, the dead will help the living by protecting them from evil spirits and telling their fortune for future events.
Awuru Odo Traditions
The living welcome the spirits with a ceremony and offerings. Each family holds a welcoming ceremony for their relatives. Men take part in elaborate preparations and performances for receiving the Odo back. They prepare shrines, surrounded by fences. This is where the spirits of the dead will come to. The spirits’ arrival can come anytime between September and November.
One Last Performance Before Odo’s Arrival and Departure
In April, before the dead depart, they have one last massive performance. It reenacts the Odo’s arrival and departure from Earth. This reenactment uses the costumes crafted entirely out of grasses, plants, beads and feathers. The people reenacting the characters must have great physical endurance because of all the movements. After the performance, Odo then climb Ukehe hills and travel back to the lands of the dead. They take the prayers of the living like good hunts, abundant crops, and large families with them.
Poland: Dzień Zaduszny
Similar to the Philippines holiday Undás, Zaduszki or Dzień Zaduszny remembers the dead in Poland. This special day has been part of the Polish culture for generations. These special days are dedicated to remembrance and honoring those who have come before. This special day was established by the Church when the Christian religion was just kicking off.
All Saints’ Day
The first day of celebration is recognized as All Saints’ Day . On November 1st, Poland celebrates all of the saints of the Church and there is a huge feast. In ancient times, pagans influenced the Church when they were still on talking terms. Preparations for All Saints’ Day begins a few days earlier when families straighten up the graves of those who have departed to the afterlife.
All Souls’ Day
The party really starts on the eve of November 2nd. All Souls’ Day is when the dead return to partake of food and drink. Polish families bake bread and cook large meals on this day. One such ceremonial grain dish was kutia, the oldest food known to their culture, made of wheat and honey.
The families and groups then go to the cemetery with the leftovers and place them at the graves. Bouquets of flowers cover the cemeteries. Thousands of candles stand aglow on the graves of their loved ones and their lost souls. An old Polish legend says that these candles help the departed souls find their way through the darkness to find peace. Candles are said to blow in the direction the lost souls need to travel between heaven and earth. Fallen soldiers of the world wars typically receive special treatment.
If families could not get to the graves, an offering of food rests on the table at home. In the evening, doors and windows stand ajar so that the deceased can visit their former homes.
Japan: Halloween Parade and Obon Festival
Although Japan has been celebrating the Obon Festival for years, there is not a whole lot of history regarding Halloween in Japan. It only came about recently due to a certain theme park. We can thank Disneyland for hosting a Halloween event back in 2000, after which, Halloween spread like wildfire. After Disney’s success, the other major theme parks hosted similar events and the popularity has grown across the county.
Kawasaki Halloween Parade
This Kawasaki Halloween Parade is on October 26th. It draws over 120,000 spectators and over 2,000 costumed participants. This year marks the 23rd year of the Halloween parade. Creativity is an artform when walking in this parade. Year after year, the costumes get more elaborate from the latest trends to Cosplay characters you will see everything.
Japanese Obon Festival
It is important to mention that the Halloween parade and the Obon Festival are not during the same month and they are not the same holiday. The Japanese typically celebrate the Obon Festival, also known as the Ghost Festival, during the seventh month of the lunar calendar, beginning around the 13th day, and ending on the 16th. It is a memorial for spirits’ and remembering ancestors from generations from ages ago.
Before the holiday, Japanese people clean and organize their houses from top to bottom. Almost like spring cleaning. Families then get various offerings together, which is a mix of items like green tea, sake, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. They then place them in front of a butsudan (Buddhist altar) for the beginning of Obon.
The Traditions of Obon
Chochin (paper) lanterns are lit to mark the first day of Obon. Celebrators construct the lanterns out of washi paper carefully glued onto a bamboo frame. Living family members bring the lanterns to their family’s grave sites to call their ancestors’ spirits back home. Also, Japanese people light entrances of homes with small fires to help guide the spirits into the forgotten residence. The second day of Obon celebrates the spirits’ return. There are performances and ceremonies around towns. Almost like a carnival atmosphere. On the third day, it is time to say good-bye to these spirits’. The participant’s goodbys vary but it all ends with the lighting of a lantern painted with their family’s crest.
Halloween Traditions Honorable Mention: World Dracula Day
Which Halloween monster could possibly be more recognizable than Dracula, the Prince of Darkness? Hey, we know this isn’t part of the original Halloween traditions! But the infamous vampire, Count Dracula, has inspired plenty of films, costumes, and characters. The Halloween holiday gives this story immortality. He is one of the most beloved Halloween characters. Fangs, blood, and darkness, what’s not to love!
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is Vlad Dracula III
May 26th is World Dracula Day, which celebrates the story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Not the Count from Sesame Street, this Count Dracula is the most iconic vampire around. His story was based on a real person, Vlad Dracula III of Wallachia (Romania). He was born in Sighișoara, Transylvania and was the real-life inspiration behind the horror novel. Vlad Dracula III earned the nickname “Vlad the Impaler” for the many ways his enemies succumbed to his torture. His victims included people who betrayed him when they were captured after his campaigns.
Count Dracula’s Castle in Romania
If you ever travel to Romania, check out Count Dracula’s castle. Celebrating Halloween at Vlad the Impaler’s home in Transylvania, Romania is an amazing experience. People come from all around the world to visit this idolized castle (although it was never technically Vlad Dracula III’s castle). There is quite a bit that remains unclear about World Dracula Day, but one would assume it all adds to the story.
Halloween Traditions Are Best to Be Passed Down
Aren’t you glad you tuned in for this special Halloween traditions post? Most cultures celebrate the holiday by trying to reconnect with family and friends, as well as those who may have passed on to the next life. They bring them back as a remembrance for Halloween and other similar holidays. It may sound creepy to some but all-in-all we all tend to remember people who have passed in our own ways.
This Halloween, sink your teeth into some snacks and get the family together to watch your favorite horror movies. Carve some pumpkins, dress up, and invest in bulk packages of candy to get into the Halloween spirit! Traditions are best passed down the family tree. Have a happy and safe Hallows’ Eve no matter where you live.