One of the world’s oldest holidays, join the party with these spooky Halloween traditions
Halloween, is a yearly celebration that takes place in countries all over the globe, usually on 31 October,. What sets Halloween apart from other traditional holidays? It celebrates the dead – which may sound depressing, but can actually be a lot of fun!
From lighting candles in their honour, to dressing up as witches and eating too much candy, there are big variations in the way people celebrate the day. Here we’re going to take a look at the history of and language associated with Halloween, as well as the many varied ways in which it’s celebrated across the world. No matter where you’re celebrating this festival, there are new words and phrases to learn, and lots of fascinating traditions to discover.
Traditionally thought of as a very American holiday, Halloween is actually far older than the United States of America! It’s thought to have its origins in ancient folk and pagan festivals and feasts that took place at this time of year in Celtic-speaking countries like Scotland and Ireland.
The word Halloween, or Hallowe’en, means hallowed evening or holy evening, and is basically a shortened version of the phrase All Hallows’ Evening. You might also see it referred to as All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Eve.
Halloween is the name we give to the eve of – that is the evening before – All Hallow’s Day. This marks the time of year in the Christian calendar that is dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints – also known as hallows.
There are lots of words and phrases associated with Halloween that vary depending on where you are in the world. We’re going to share some of them with you here, so you can get to know this holiday better, and join in the fun yourself.
Traditions around the globe
Let’s begin where it all started. Many of the customs carried out here are the same as those celebrated in the UK, the USA and other English-speaking countries. You’ll find bonfires lit all around the country, especially in rural areas – these are large, open-air fires traditionally used in celebrations.
Children and adults dress up in costumes – often as scary characters, ghosts, witches and skeletons, and go trick or treating. This means going from house to house around your neighbourhood, knocking on doors, and being given treats – typically snacks, chocolate and candy. Kids shout “trick or treat!” as people open their doors, and if they aren’t given a treat they can trick the person by carrying out a small prank on them.
Special foods are often eaten at Halloween. In Ireland Barnbrack is a popular kind of Halloween fruitcake, with a muslin-wrapped treat baked inside that, it is said, can tell the eater’s future. If a ring is found, it means that the person will soon get married; a piece of straw means that a lucky year is on its way.
Celebrations in America are much the same. In addition to trick or treating they also have games and treasure hunts that take place. Bobbing for apples is one of the most popular – here some apples are added to a big pot of water and children take it in turns to try and catch an apple in their mouths without using their hands.
Americans also decorate using jack o’ lanterns. These are made by emptying out pumpkins and carving faces into them, then lighting them up by placing a candle inside. The leftover pumpkin flesh is traditionally used to make a Halloween pumpkin pie or pumpkin soup. In Ireland and Scotland people often use turnips in the same way.
In Austria, people like to feed the dead! It’s a custom to leave bread, water and a lighted lamp out on a table before going to bed on Halloween. This is to provide for any departed souls that might come back to earth that night…
In Belgium, candles are lit in memory of deceased friends and relatives on Halloween. They’re also more suspicious of black cats on this day, believing it to be bad luck if one enters your house, or if one crosses your path.
The Chinese Halloween celebration is known as Teng Chieh. Here food and water are left beside photos of friends and relatives who have passed away. Boats of the law are made from paper at Buddhist temples, and burned long into the night, while lanterns are lit across the country. These fire traditions are said to help the pretas, the spirits of the dead, to find their way home.
Germans celebrate Halloween as All Saints Day, and it takes place for a whole week from 31 October to 8 November. Time is spent in church honouring saints who have died, as well as visiting the graves of loved ones. There’s also a more unusual tradition here – Germans like to hide their knives at Halloween to protect any spirits who return to earth during this time.
No country celebrates Halloween better than Mexico. In fact, their Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated over several days, from 31 October through 2 November. It’s really a celebration of All Souls Day, when people can remember their departed loved ones and celebrate their lives. There are family feasts, skull-shaped sweets and gifts, parades of people dressed as ghouls and skeletons, and lots of mariachi music, singing, dancing and tequila.
Where do you think you’d rather celebrate Halloween? Maybe you celebrate it differently back home? We’d love to hear all about your favourite Halloween celebrations in the comments.