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Halloween, celebrated on October 31st, is one of the oldest holidays, originating in Ireland in the 10th century. Ancient Celts celebrated the end of harvest season with a festival known as “Samhain,” lighting bonfires and wearing masks to keep the spirits away. They believed that on this night spirits could cross over into our world more easily than ever. Eventually, the pagan celebration was Christianized, giving it the name “All Hallows Eve” – the night before Hallows Day, or Saint’s Day. This is where we get the holiday’s modern name – “Halloween”.
Today, Halloween is celebrated all over the world in different ways. It’s a fun holiday that involves costumes, parties, spooky decor, and connection with the supernatural. But some countries stand out with their unique and interesting Halloween traditions.
In Germany, Halloween is celebrated much like it is in the USA – with costumes, candy, and parties. But one thing is different: every year on the night of October 31, people hide their kitchen knives. It is believed that hiding knives ensures that the spirits of the dead will not get hurt.. and won’t hurt the living!
Traditionally, the British and other northern european cultures made jack-o-lanterns out of turnips or beets. The pumpkin became the symbol of Halloween only once the holiday made its way to North America. Today, you might still see some turnip jack-o-lanterns on that side of the world, and they are pretty spooky! Another interesting tradition in England is celebrating Halloween in conjunction with Guy Fawkes day – a day of celebrating the execution of Guy Fawkes, who attempted to destroy the House of Lords with explosives in 1605. His execution and failure to succeed at his plot is celebrated with bonfires and fireworks, which blends nicely with other Halloween celebrations going on that night.
In Mexico, Latin America, and Spain October 31st marks the beginning of a 3-day celebration of the dead, known as Dia de los Muertos. Unlike commercialized Halloween, this holiday focuses on family gathering together to remember their loved ones who have died. The deceased are celebrated with a lively festival, with a lot of food, drink, and music. Instead of fearing death, these cultures see it as a part of life, a continuation to the next phase. To invite the friendly spirits back into their homes, families set up altars with various food offerings, photos of the deceased, and candles lighting the way. A common decoration for the Dia de los Muertos altar is the sugar skull.
There’s no better place to celebrate Halloween than in Transylvania – the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, better known as Dracula. Romanians have embraced their dark history by putting on a real show for Halloween. Actors reenact terrifying scenes from Vlad’s reign, including witch trials and executions. In addition, one can tour inside the “haunted” castle where Vlad the Impaler actually lived. Many still use garlic to ward off Dracula’s ghost and other spirits returning on Halloween.
In Philippines, All Saints Day is celebrated like in most other cultures: by visiting the cemetery, lighting a candle, and remembering the deceased. Some provinces have an interesting tradition for the night before, called Pangangaluluwà: children dress in white and go from house to house singing songs and prayers for the dead. In exchange for their efforts, they are given soul cakes. It is believed that when a soul cake is consumed, a trapped soul is set free from purgatory. Many believe this is where the tradition of trick-or-treating originated. Unfortunately, the Pangangaluluwà tradition is becoming less popular, giving way for western influence.
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