We usually associate Halloween with costumes, the latest Ouija film, loads of candy and probably lots of cavities soon following. Often, we think of Halloween as just a day of tricks and treats… Or an opportunity to say, “I’m a mouse, duh!”
But Halloween is not just a commercial holiday for companies to gain money from candy and costume sales. It’s also not just for kids, as Halloween has many international traditions, some with ancient and religious origins. Here’s what to think about when you’re carving your PSL and donning your mask.
Celtic Festival of Samhain
Halloween first originated in Ireland. The Celts, who lived in Ireland 2,000 years ago, celebrated their new year on November 1, in honor of the arrival of the dark winter season. Samhain refers to the seasonal change, which was thought to be the best time for spirits to pass through different worlds. The color orange symbolized harvest and strength. The color black was also used, as it’s frequently associated with death. Before pumpkins were used for jack-o’-lanterns, turnips and potatoes were originally carved. During the holiday, ancestors were honored, bonfires were started, and costumes were worn in order to ward off harmful spirits. England and Scotland both hold similar customs. It wasn’t until immigrants brought the celebration to the west did it become popular in North America.
Dia de Los Muertos
A holiday translated to “Day of the Dead,” this three-day Mexican holiday commemorates loved ones who have passed and the life they lived rather than the death that has occurred. A common belief is that the dead return to their homes on earth on October 31. Candles are lit in order to aid the deceased in their routes home. Before the holiday, families create altars for the dead and adorn them with flowers, photos and sweets in order to please the spirits in hopes that they’ll bestow a year of good fortune. Besides attending festivals, communities gather at cemeteries in order to decorate the graves of those they have lost. It’s also common for girls to paint their faces to resemble sugar skulls in order to depict the joyful spirit of the deceased.
This Buddhist holiday is the Japanese equivalent of Halloween and honors soul that have left. A tradition that has existed for the past 500 years, it is either celebrated in July or August for three days, the date depending on the region. Similar to Day of the Dead traditions, graves are visited and decorated with offerings for spirits. On the final day, communities assemble in a circle to perform the style of Bon Odori dance while wearing kimonos. In the evening, paper lanterns are left to float in the sea in order to guide spirits back to where they came from. During more recent years, cosplay has become more and more popular during the festivities.
Translated to “Saint Barbara’s Day,” this Christian holiday is equivalent to Halloween but celebrated on December 4 in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Turkey. It celebrates Martyr Saint Barbara, who was believed to disguise herself as various characters in order to evade persecution by Romans. During her escape, it was believed that she ran through a wheat field which grew to cover her tracks. This is honored by the planting of beans, wheat and other grains. Traditional dishes are cooked, children dress up and go trick-or-treating, and jack-o’-lanterns are carved.