Halloween dates back thousands of years to ancient Celts and Europeans. Although Halloween is largely associated with the celebrations that take place across much of North America, where 65% of Americans decorate their homes and places of business in the Halloween spirit, it is celebrated in various ways all around the globe.
In the past, Brits tossed objects such as stones, vegetables and nuts into a bonfire to frighten away the spirits. These symbolic sacrifices also were used as a form of fortune-telling. If a pebble thrown into the flames at night was no longer visible in the morning, then it was believed that the person who tossed the pebble would not survive another year. Halloween fell out of favor after the Protestant Reformation spread through the country. However, in recent years some have begun to adopt the American tradition of trick-or-treating.
A Halloween-type festival in Hong Kong is known as “Yue Lan,” which is the festival of the hungry ghosts. It is believed that, during this time, spirits roam the world for 24 hours.
Halloween is considered an American holiday by most French and was relatively unknown before 1996.
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Ireland is thought to be the birthplace of Halloween, and many of the same traditions of old are still practiced today. In addition to costumes and treats, individuals may play an apple-bobbing game called “snap-apple,” where participants have to try to take a bite of an apple suspended on a string. Children also play tricks on neighbors, including “knock-a-dolly,” which is essentially a variation on “ring-and-run.”
Many Spanish-speaking nations celebrate “El Dia de los Muertos.” It is supposed to be a joyous event where people remember friends and family members who have died. Candles and incense are burned to help the departed find his or her way home.
Some people will leave bread, water and a lighted lamp on the table on Halloween night before going to bed. It was once believed that such items would welcome the dead souls back to Earth on a night Austrians considered to be full of strong cosmic energies.
Czechs place chairs by a fireside on Halloween night. There are enough chairs for each living and dead family member.
Halloween traditions have just recently begun to blossom in Italy, where decorations and pumpkins are popular. While many of the traditions borrow from the Americans, there is at least one uniquely Italian tradition taking place in the hill town of Corinaldo. La Notte delle Streghe, “The Night of the Witches,” occurs in this town with music, dancing and a witch-themed fashion show that names Miss Strega (Miss Witch).
Halloween isn’t as popular in Australia as it is in the United States and Canada. Australians may celebrate Halloween as Guy Fawkes Eve or Mischief Night. Children create mischief or get treats. Many Australians simply celebrate the holiday with a dance at their schools.
Halloween is alive and well around the world. Perhaps this year North American families will want to incorporate some global traditions into their standard Halloween plans.