In this wide world we have countless customs, holidays and traditions. But the tradition of honoring, and at times, fearing the dead around the dark autumn time, seems to be something we do in all corners of the earth.
Through the modern media we have all grown accustomed to this specific type of Halloween traditions. Carving pumpkins, go trick or treating and dressing up is now a global phenomenon. But the concept of celebrating the dead, souls and spirits during the harvest season has always been something people have done, and probably will continue to do for a while. But although the American style Halloween have monopolised a lot of the celebration, there are still both old and local variation of celebrating this kind of festivity. Here are some of them:
Samhain — Britain
The Samhain celebration is probably were the modern Halloween traditions has borrowed most customs and ideas from. It is a Gaelic festival marking the end of harvest season and the beginning of winter. it was usually celebrated from 31. October to 1. November. It was celebrated all throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, with many similar festivals held around the same time around the rest of the Celtic Islands.
According to tradition, bonfires were lit as they were seen to have protective and cleansing power. Offerings to the Aois Sí, the spirits and fairies was made to give them a good harvest and making them last through the winter. There was also held feasts where they made place for the dead at the table, as it was believed that the souls of the dead would visit.
The festival was held because the time was seen as a liminal time, were the boundary between the living and dead were minimal and the crossing between this world and the otherworld were more easily done. A part of the festival also included people dressing up in costume to recite verses for food, called mummers play, or mumming.
All Saints Day — Catholic Church
Within the Catholic Church the celebration of All Saints’ Day or All Souls’ Day is marked November the first and second. It is also called Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed and Day of the Dead. The All Saints Day is a day for celebrating all Saints and Martyrs in the Christian Church. The All Souls Day is mostly for the people still in purgatory to atone for their sins before entering heaven.
This together with Samhain turned into what we now call the modern Halloween with its traditions. Most often, the All Saints’ Day is celebrated within the western christianity, while in the eastern christianity they have celebrated somewhat the same in Saturday of Souls celebrations. It is mostly celebrated by Roman Catholics and Anglicans.
The feast itself is celebrated on November 1. and is mostly a day of prayer and remembering the souls of the dead. On the day there are many ways the practitioners remember the dead, and the traditions vary from church to church, but it generally include lighting candles and praying.
Allantide — Wales
A Cornish version of Halloween traditions is the Allantide, or Kalan Gwaw, meaning the first day of winter. In the sixth century, Cornwall had a bishop named St Allan, and therefore it is also known as Allan Night and Allan Day. Traditionally it was celebrated on the night of October 31 and the day after.
A lot of common traits with Hollantide celebration in Wales and Isle of Man as well as Halloween itself. To celebrate they rung the church bell to comfort Christian souls on their journey to heaven. They made Jack’o lanterns from turnips. But the most important fruit this feast was red apples. Large, glossy Allan apples were polished and given to friends and family as gift for good luck.
Divination game to read the future was also a part of the festivities. They ere for example throwing walnuts in the fire to predict the fidelity of their partners, or poring molten lead in cold water to find out the job of their future husband. Also some parts of Cornwal, they lit ‘Tindle’ fires to the Coel Coth of Wales.
Day of the Dead — Mexico
The Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos in Spanish is a Mexican holiday, well known for their distinctive costumes and face paint. Before the Spanish colonization in the 16th century, the celebration was in the beginning of the summer in Mexico. But it became intertwined with the Christian church and European Halloween traditions and moved to the end of October and beginning of November.
It is a holiday, stretching over several days gathers families and friends to pray for their lost ones and help their way to heaven. According to the Mexican culture, the death is viewed as a naturally part of the human cycle and should therefor not be seen as a day of sadness, but a day of celebrations.
Pchum Ben — Cambodia
The holiday is a fifteen day celebration on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar, at the end of the Buddhist Lent, Vassa. And would in the Gregorian calendar, mostly be in September and October. The translation of Pchum Ben is Ancestor Day, and its a time were many Cambodians pay their respect to the dead family and relatives up to seven generations.
Monks chant the sutta in Pali language without sleeping overnight to prepare the gates of hell opening. This occurs once a year and is a time were manes (spirits) of the ancestors come back. Therefore they put out food offerings that can help them end their time in purgatory.
People give foods like sweet sticky rice and beans wrapped in banana leaves, and visit temples to offer up baskets of flowers as a way to pay respect to their deceased ancestors. It’s also a time for people to celebrate the elderly.
Pangangaluluwa — Philippines
The name of the holiday is from the word kaluluwa, meaning soul or spirit. It is an event that lasts three days at the cemetery with food stands and pop-up stores around the cemetery as the people celebrating the festivities, camp out.
On the first of November people gather in cemetaries to light candles and put flowers on the grave to respect the ancestors. some places in the north they have this old tradition of lighting pinewood next to the graves. In the cemetery there is a priest walking through it to bless all the tombs.
Outside of the emetaries, there are carollers singing through the night, all draped in white blankets. The same tradition is for children as they go door to door and singing hymns to get money.
Today, the local tradition is slowly fading out, merging more and more with the modern Halloween traditions, but out in the provinces, mostly, the old practices is still upheld for now.
Saint Andrew’s Day — Romania
This day is today connected to the Christian saint, but it also have some pagan origins with the Roman celebration of Saturn. In the Dacian Ney Year was an interval when time started up again. On the turn of the night, wolves were allowed to eat the animals they wanted and it was also believed that they spoke as well, although, if you heard it, it meant an early death.
Early on the day, the mothers went into the garden to get branches, especially from apple, pear, cherry trees and rose bush branches. They made a bunch of these branches for each family member, and if a branch bloomed by New Years day, it meant they would be lucky and healthy the following year.
There was also a tradition of girls hiding sweet basil under their pillow to have dreams about their wedding. It was also customary for girls to put 41 grains of wheat under their pillow, and if they dreamt someone stole them, it meant they were going to be wed the next year. This premonition was also done by bringing a candle to a fountain at midnight and ask Saint Andrew himself if he could give them a glimpse of their future husband.
This day was especially good for revealing the future husband by magic, a superstitious belief that was also in Ukraine, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Poland, Russia as well as in Romania. This was also the day were vampiric activity was at large, all until Saint George’s Eve on the 22. of April.
Dziady — Poland
The Dziady is a slavic feast to remember the ancestor long passed. It is sometimes translated to Forefathers Eve. It used to be celebrated both in the spring and in the autumn, but today, it is usually held in the end of October like .
In the feast they eat ritual meals to celebrate the living and the souls. It was either held at the house or at cemeteries, were poring directly on the grave was and still is a thing. In some areas the ancestors also had to bathe, and saunas was prepared for them. They also lit up candles and lights to guide the souls so they wouldn’t get lost and wander off.
There was also a special kind of begger, a beggars-dziady, people thought to be connected to the other words. They were given food and sometimes cash to make them pray for their loved lost ones.
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