Halloween, with its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain, is one of the oldest holidays in the world. While not all countries share the U.S. traditions of wearing costumes, trick or treating, and carving jack-o’-lanterns, many cultures have their own holidays that honor the dead and celebrate the supernatural. Here are seven celebrations and festivals around the world similar to Halloween.
- Ireland: Samhain
The Irish festival of Samhain has been celebrated in Ireland and Scotland for over 2,000 years, and is considered to be the origin of present-day Halloween. Meaning “end of the light half of the year,” Samhain is celebrated in Ireland and Scotland each October with bonfires, games, and traditional foods.
- Mexico: Día de los Muertos
Día de los Muertos is a two-day festival celebrated in Mexico and parts of Latin America to honor deceased friends, family, and loved ones. Celebrants believe that at midnight on Oct. 31 each year the souls of deceased children are allowed to return to Earth for 24 hours, followed by the souls of deceased adults at midnight on Nov. 2. The festival is celebrated by preparing offerings of food for the dead, including turkey, hot chocolate, tortillas, and fruit. Toys and candy are left for the children, and mezcal and cigarettes are left for the adults.
- Japan: Kawasaki Halloween Parade
The Kawasaki Halloween parade has been a tradition in Japan for 21 years. Each year at the end of October, people gather in the city of Kawasaki, outside Tokyo, to take part in the event. With more than 4,000 costumed participants each year, the parade is the largest Halloween event in Japan. Those wishing to participate in the parade must apply to be admitted two months in advance and pay a registration fee.
- India: Pitru Paksha
During the Hindu festival of Pitru Paksha, the souls of the dead are allowed to briefly return to Earth from purgatory, where it is believed they are sent by Yama, the Hindu god of death, after dying. Celebrants of the 16 day festival prepare offerings of kheer, made of sweet rice and milk, lapsi, a sweet porridge, and lentils, pumpkins, and spring beans. This food is cooked in copper or silver pots, and is served as an offering to the dead on banana leaves.
- Nigeria: Awuru Odo Festival
The Odo festival is a religious festival honoring the dead, celebrated every two years by the Igbo people of Nigeria. The Odo are the spirits of the dead, who are believed to return to Earth for six months every two years to visit their families. The festival begins in October with the arrival of the spirits, represented by masked men from each village, and ends the following April when the Odo return to the land of the dead. Both the arrival and departure of the Odo are celebrated with music and feasts.
- Cambodia: Pchum Ben
Pchum Ben is a Cambodian festival that honors the dead and the elderly. It lasts several weeks each year, from the middle of September until the beginning of October. During the festival, families eat traditional foods such as beans wrapped in banana leaves and sticky rice. To honor the dead during Pchum Ben, flowers are placed in baskets and left at temples in memory of deceased loved ones.
- Italy: Ognissanti
On Nov. 1, Italians celebrate All Saints’ Day, better known as Ognissanti. Ognissanti, a federally recognized holiday in Italy, is dedicated to remembering and celebrating friends, family, and loved ones that are deceased. Several days before the holiday, people visit the gravesites of deceased loved ones and leave freshly cut flowers, usually chrysanthemums, on their graves. Chrysanthemums have special significance to Ognissanti both because they bloom around the same time as the holiday, and because they represent death and mourning in Italy. On Ognissanti itself, households celebrate by putting a red candle in a window just before sunset, and setting an extra place at the table in memory of deceased loved ones.