Of course, we have our guide to the history of Halloween, which goes into its origins, but what All Hallow’s Eve is today, varies greatly depending on who you are and where you’re from.
It’s interesting as a festival because unlike Christmas, there is a vast contrast in how Halloween is celebrated accross the population.
If you asked someone what Christmas was, they would probably say presents, Santa, turkey, crackers, Christmas pudding, watching rubbish TV and generally spending time with the whole family.
Try to do that with Halloween, and then compare that to what your friend says. Chances are, the associations will be entirely different.
What is Halloween in the UK
After dropping out of popularity with mainstream society many years ago, up until recently, Halloween meant little more than a few carved root vegetables (most likely turnips) and perhaps a bit of guising, although this was more prominent in the northern England, Ireland and Scotland.
During the 1980’s and 90’s the consumer potential for Halloween was realised overseas, but attempts to bring these concepts into British culture were largely unsuccessful, with the festival being seen as another American fad (many not realising where its true roots were).
Thankfully, in recent years it has become more popular all accross the UK. With sales in merchandise outselling all other festivals and in 2011 Halloween made retailers more money than any other holiday, apart from Christmas.
More importantly than just making money, Halloween has again become a time for celebration with many now choosing to host parties as well as taking part in the more traditional guising (in the form of trick or treating), apple bobbing and pumpkin carving.
What is Halloween to other countries?
Halloween in the US
Halloween is seen to be a product of Nothern America because of the fact that they go to such great efforts to celebrate it.
Their tradtions run from farming traditions like carving pumpkins and baking the seeds, fresh apple cider, pumpkin pies, hay rides, bonfires, fall dances, cornstalks, etc.
To newer (20th century) suburban tradions like home decorating and yard haunting, trick-or-treating, costume parties, scavenger hunts, professional haunted houses and events sponsored by businesses.
After being imported by the early Irish and Scottish settlers, Americans have clung onto the importance of All Hallow’s Eve, and to a great extent have put their own stamp on it, making the US the flag bearers of Halloween.
Mexico, Latin America And Spain
In Spanish-speaking nations, such as Mexico and Spain, Halloween is known as ‘El Dia de los Muertos’ or ‘the days of the dead’. It’s a 3 day festival which begins on the evening of October 31 and closes on November 2.
Although it has obvious links with death, it is a joyous and happy holiday – something that many in the west find curious. However, the concept of making Halloween ‘a time to remember friends and family who have died’ is a good one in my book.
Over the celebratory period, homes are decorated and great feasts take part, some even in the form of picnics beside graves, with the living being intent on sharing the celebration with lost loved ones.
There’s also lots tequila, mariachi bands and dancing. In fact, it is seen as being as much of a carnival as anything else.
What is Halloween elsewhere?
Here, some leave bread, water and a lit lamp on a table before retiring on Halloween night. This is to welcome the souls of the dead back to earth for one night.
One Halloween custom in Belgium on is to light candles in memory of dead loved ones.
The roots for Halloween in Canada are similar to those for the USA. As a result, they share a majority of the traditions.
Halloween in China (or the nearest thing that they have to it) is known as Teng Chieh. Food and water are placed in front of photographs of family members who have departed and fires and lanterns are lit to light the way for wandering spirits as they walk the earth for that one night.
Chairs are placed by the fireside on Halloween night. One chair for each living family member, and one for each member of the family that has recently departed.
What is Halloween in France? Well, differing slightly from many of the other nations mentioned, ‘la fête d’Halloween’ as it is known is very much the product of the American holiday which until very recently was unknown and uncelebrated in France.
It’s not seen as a particularly spiritual time, but is instead a good excuse for a party in costumes and along with that, there’s plenty of commercialism.
It’s still not overly popular, but that is changing as generally speaking Halloween becomes more widely accepted accross the world.
In Korea they celebrate “Chusok.” which is a time that families use to thank their ancestors for their living achievements by visiting their graves and leaving food offerings.
What is Halloween to you?