Arts and Entertainment

A Cultural Glimpse Into the Spooky Season

Here’s how different countries around the world celebrate Halloween.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Sophia Li

As one of the most loved holidays in the U.S., Halloween has been celebrated for years, but where did it exactly begin? Though its origin isn’t well known, most records point to European immigrants who brought their traditions to America. Halloween was initially a festival in Europe, but in America, the holiday has become a community bonding opportunity. Everyone knows what goes down on October 31 here, but how do other countries celebrate Halloween? Turns out, there are a variety of unique Halloween customs all around the world.


Perhaps the most well known holiday similar to Halloween, El Día De Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is celebrated on the first two days of November. It’s a community-centered event in which families and friends gather to commemorate the memories of lost loved ones. Mexicans build altars, ofrendas, and pile food and drinks on them as offerings to the dead. Bread, salt, and water are always included due to their symbolic meanings; other common foods include tangerines, guava, figs, sweet potatoes, and chilacayote (a native squash). They also decorate their homes with sugar skulls made of chocolate, seeds, and honey and inscribe the names of their loved ones within.


China’s Halloween equivalent is called Teng Chieh, which takes place on the 15th night of the seventh lunar month of each year. Families remember those who passed away by hanging up photographs and placing food and water in front of their photos. One of the most common foods prepared is yuanxiao (rice dumplings) filled with sugar, sesame, bean paste, or dried fruit. Families light up bonfires; lanterns shaped like dragons, birds, tigers, and other sacred animals and colorful lights float on mini paper boats to help guide the spirits onto the afterlife. Lantern owners also post pieces of paper with written riddles onto the lanterns, and those with correct answers receive a small prize.


Japan only started celebrating Halloween very recently when Tokyo Disneyland hosted a Halloween event in 2000, but their traditions are similar to the ones in the U.S. The nation celebrates the holiday on October 31, but there are many Halloween parades throughout September and October. Though there is no trick-or-treating, there is a fun game where kids collect stamps around their neighborhood and exchange them for candy. The Japanese also wear elaborate cosplay costumes to street parties. Kawasaki hosts one of the largest parades, with about 4,000 people walking down the streets dressed up.


In Italy, Halloween lasts from October 31 to November 2 and is referred to as All Saints Day. The Italians have been celebrating their dead on these days for over a millennium. Families prepare a feast for their loved ones and create bean-shaped cakes called Beans of the Dead. They later go to church so that the spirits can be left alone with the feast. It is said that if the families return home and their food hasn’t been consumed, the spirits disapprove of their home and will conjure evil against them. In more recent years, costumes have been popping up in Italian shops for the holiday, but there is no trick-or-treating.


The Germans also honor their deceased on All Saints Day. They, however, have their own traditions on October 31 similar to America’s: kids will dress up in costumes and go door-to-door to ask for treats from their neighbors. Families participate in pumpkin festivals and leave the pumpkins out on their doorsteps. There is also a 1,000-year-old haunted castle called the Burg Frankenstein that features actors dressed as ghosts and ghouls and is a popular venue for Germans and tourists alike.


Romanians don’t trick-or-treat like Americans, but kids do dress up in costumes and celebrate the holiday with parties and events on October 31. They emphasize Dracula and Transylvania (which is actually inspired by Romania), drawing many tourists and Halloween enthusiasts to its grounds. Many visitors tour the castle and watch plays featuring the vampire. There is also another holiday called St. Andrew’s Night, celebrated on November 30, when garlic is brought out as a protection against ghosts; it isn’t a serious belief, merely a fun, superstitious tradition.


The people of Cambodia honor their dead like many previously mentioned countries. Their festival P’chum Ben is a 15-day celebration that occurs in either September or October (depending on the calendar). Cambodians typically bring out traditional foods like sticky rice and beans wrapped in banana leaves to Buddhist temples, where families and friends gather. Cambodians listen to speeches and songs at a temple while the spirits of their loved ones roam around.

America’s Halloween traditions definitely share some similarities with other countries, but some cultures have completely different customs. Nonetheless, all around the world, different places have their own wonderful and unique ways of celebrating Halloween or its cultural equivalent. Though in many countries trick-or-treating and dressing up in costumes is the norm, Halloween internationally is not defined by this stereotype, since other nations have festivals to honor their dead and symbolic traditions that create a nuanced depiction of what Halloween truly is. Regardless of where you live, let’s hope these traditions live on for years to come.