There is a very clear indication in the UK that summer is turning to autumn. It is not the leaves falling from the trees, it is not the slight chill on the breeze, and it is not even the days seeming shorter. The true sign that summer is over is that shops are filled with every piece of Halloween paraphernalia you could imagine.
Everything from pumpkins to fake blood – in the final days of August the shops decide to give the Great British public a two-month headstart so they will be ready to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve. While we’re trick or treating, bobbing for apples and carving a scary face on to a pumpkin – how does the rest of the world mark this spooky occasion?
Let’s travel the globe and see how Halloween is a little different away from British shores.
USA – Halloween
Where else to start than the country we all turn to when we want to see the most over-the-top costumes and the most bizarre celebrations – USA. From the horror films to the parades, they really know how to mark Halloween over in the States but it was not always like that.
Believe it or not but there was a time when October 31st passed off without even a raise of the eyebrow in the USA. Yes, it wasn’t until the 19th century Halloween came to America when Irish and Scottish immigrants arrived and helped to popularise the celebrations of harvest which included “play parties”. And the rest, they say, is history.
Ireland – Samhain
As the Americans clasped onto Halloween with both hands and honoured it by dressing up as fictional murderers – the occasion came from relatively simple beginnings. In Celtic lore, the year is divided into two halves – dark and light – so Halloween marked the Celtic New Year’s Eve known as Samhain which translated as “summer’s end”.
In ancient Irish times it was a celebration of the dead where there would be a feast to honour the dearly departed. There would be rituals and games where the living would entertain the dead before lighting fires to symbolise the light of a new year. It is tradition still observed in parts of Ireland and Scotland today.
Italy – Ognissanti
Similar to Irish traditions, Italians honour the dead on All Saints’ Day on November 1st. This is a national holiday in Italy known as Ogissanti where families come together to mark the passing of their beloved.
During this time cemeteries are transformed into a sea of colour as people place fresh flowers – usually chrysanthemums – on the graves of their loved ones and even on those of complete strangers. Many will also leave a ‘lumino’ (red candle) on their window sill for the deceased who will come and leave the children confetti as a way to know they are always with them.
Germany – “Süß oder saueres!”
While Germany tends to follow the Americanised version of Halloween, there are a couple of strange traditions that some Germans follow at this time of year. As many believe that Halloween signifies the return of the souls of the dead, it is custom in some parts of the country to hide all your knives as to avoid harming the ghosts and ghouls.
Romania – Day of Dracula
Could there be a more apt Halloween location than Romania? Well, maybe Salem, Massachusetts but Transylvania has been forever linked with this spookiest time of year. Even the name sends shivers down the spine!
It is no surprise that the eerie Romanian countryside is a popular destination when Halloween rolls around. Looming out of the trees is Bran Castle, a building linked with Vlad the Impaler and the legend of Dracula. Honestly, where could be better to scare yourself on Halloween?
Poland – Dzień Zaduszny
Poland marks Halloween with a two-day celebration to honour the dead. On Dzień Zaduszny, Poles from all over the country go to visit the graves of their family members. This holiday (held on both November 1st and 2nd) is a solemn occasion with small ceremonies at the cemetery before the laying of flowers.
The second part of the holiday is ‘Day of All Souls’ where masses are held in churches across Poland to pray for the souls that have moved on.
France – la fête d’Halloween
For some countries, Halloween is a celebration of the dead, for others it signals the beginning of a harvest, for France it is an excuse for a party. For years, the French listened to the tales of foreign residents and tourists of a night where people dressed as vampires, skeletons and mummies and collected sweets.
It wasn’t until 1992 that the Mask Museum in Saint-Hilaire-Saint Florent opened a Halloween theme exhibition and four years later the village of Saint Germain-en-Laye threw the first recorded Halloween party in France. While it is recognised, some French people see it as an American celebration and are unsure why it is celebrated.
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