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Not all children around the world walk from door to door with pillowcases full of candy on Halloween. And although the holiday is an Irish invention, it’s Canada and the United States that have made Halloween as popular as it is today. But that doesn’t mean that the tail end of October (or beginning of November) slips by without celebration in other parts of the world. These six countries celebrate their holidays around Halloween time, and some of their celebrations may even trump our North American version.
El Dia de los Muertos, or “The Day of the Dead,” is celebrated every year on Nov. 1 and 2. The two-day holiday serves as a time to honor deceased loved ones by setting up altars and providing their favorite food and drinks. Many families burn candles and incense to help the souls find their way home and set out wash bins, so their departed loved ones can clean up before enjoying their favorite dishes. And although the Day of the Dead is often associated with Mexico, it is celebrated throughout much of Latin America and Spain.
The week of Seleenwoche, held Oct. 30 to Nov. 8 every year, is a time to remember and welcome back dead souls. Austrians provide the souls with bread, water and the light of a lamp at night. On the night of Nov. 1, All Saints Day, families gather together and walk to the graveyard with lanterns to leave at the grave sites of their loved ones. The following day, All Souls Day, is dedicated to remembering loved ones and praying for their souls.
The fifth of November is reserved for Guy Fawkes Day and Bonfire Night in Great Britain. The day is meant to celebrate the survival of King James I due to the capturing of Guy Fawkes, an infamous traitor who was a critical part of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. On this day, the British burn sculptures of Guy Fawkes, light off fireworks and build bonfires.
The two-day-long Samhain (literally meaning summer’s end) festival in Ireland and Scotland is meant to celebrate the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the “darker half” of the year. Pagans and Wiccans believe that this is the beginning of the new year, and the easiest time to communicate with the dead. Celebrators leave offerings of food and other items along the road and inside their homes. Some even set empty chairs by the fireplace and light candles to help the spirits find their way.
Similar to the Austrian festival of Seleenwoche, southern Germany celebrates Halloween as All Saints Day (or week) from Oct. 30 through Nov. 8. Catholics and some Protestants spend the days attending church and honoring their departed loved ones. Traditionally, Germans will hide all of their knives, so the returning spirits can not be harmed when entering their homes.
China’s version of Halloween may not happen in the month of October, but it’s one of the most unique Halloween festivals in the world. Teng Chieh, also known as the Lantern Festival, marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Families provide traditional food and water for the spirits of their lost loved ones. Nighttime bonfires, hanging lights and small paper boats are lit to remember the deceased and free their souls.