Halloween in the US is a pretty big deal. Each October, you’ll find people of all ages dressing up in costumes, decorating their homes, visiting haunted mazes, and eating loads of candy. But have you ever wondered if other cultures have something similar? Here’s how a few cultures from around the world celebrate and honor the dead.
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Dia de Muertos– Latin America- October 31st- November 2nd
During Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Day, people gather to pay respect to friends and family members who have died. It is believed that during this time spirits are able to come back to Earth for a visit. To encourage visits from dead relatives, families will visit cemeteries to decorate their graves and leave altars. The altars usually hold that family member’s favorite foods, drinks, candles, photos, marigold flowers, and other objects. These altars help the souls find their way home. Many families will even build altars with candles and photos of deceased relatives and candles in their own homes.
The three day festival is also full of many celebrations. At Day of the Dead festivals you’ll find bright colors, costumes, traditional foods and sweets, music and dancing. Festival goers will wear bright costumes, paint their faces or wear masks styled after the calavera, and sometimes wear shells to wake the dead while dancing.
Yu Lan or The Hungry Ghost Festival– China- Mid August
The 15th day of the Seventh month in the Lunar Calendar is known as Yu Lan or the Hungry Ghost Festival. In traditional Chinese belief, the 7th month of the year is when the gates of the underworld open and spirits are able to walk the Earth. The 15th day of the month is the time to feed and entertain these spirits. People prepare feasts to both welcome the spirits of family members and satisfy the spirits of any other ghosts who may want to bring bad luck. Families may also burn paper offerings for their relatives to use in the afterlife. Some countries even hold live performances to entertain the dead.
Fourteen days after the festival, it is time for the souls to leave Earth. Participants make lotus shaped floating paper lanterns to send down the river and guide the souls to the underworld. This ending ceremony symbolizes that all the wandering souls have returned to the underworld.
Seleenwoche– Austria- Late October/Early November
Seleenwoche is similar to the Catholic All Soul’s Day but instead it is All Soul’s Week! It is also believed that souls of the dead walk the Earth during this time. Families leave out bread, water, and a lamp on a table in their house to welcome home their dead loved ones. November 1st, All Soul’s Day, is the day the dead actually walk the Earth. This is due to strong cosmic energies surrounding the Earth on that day. families head to the cemeteries with lanterns to guide their loved ones’ souls through the dark. They then go to church to pray for the souls and ask God to send them to heaven.
While many associate Halloween with witchcraft and prefer not to celebrate it, some still participate in the holiday. A few Austrian towns even have a pumpkin festival with parties and a parade!
Pchum Ben– Cambodia- October 8th
Translated to “Ancestor’s Day”, Pchum Ben is a 15 day Cambodian religious festival in the tenth month of the Khmer calendar. The first 14 days of the festival are called Kan Ben (observed celebration) and on the last day they celebrate Pchum Ben. Pchum Ben is the day to celebrate and honor ancestors as far back as seven generations. The night before Pchum Ben, monks stay awake the whole night chanting. The next day the gates of Hell are opened and the ghosts of the dead walk the Earth. Some ghosts are able to leave Hell and move on to Heaven while others must go back to resume suffering when the day is done. The food offerings offer temporary relief from the suffering and also benefit relatives who have already made it to heaven.
Celebrations include feasts, traditional music, giving gifts to monks, candle lighting, and prayers.
Ghede– Haiti- November 2nd
Ghede is a traditional Haitian holiday which honors the dead. Stemming from Haiti’s Catholic and Vodun background, this holiday is a celebration of spirits led by the god of death, Baron Samedi. The day begins with everyone dressing in their fanciest clothes to go to church and pray. Afterwards everyone dresses up as Ghede spirits in black, white, and purple. This also includes painting part of the face white. If a family has ancestors at the local cemetery, they will go clean the tombs and leave food offerings. Once spiritual leaders, drummers, and singers pray to rise the ancestors’ spirits, the celebration begins.
To celebrate, an altar containing cigarettes, spiced rum, candles, and other items is set up for Baron Samedi. Celebrators attend large feasts and Ghede parties. Parties can either include traditional Ghede bands or modern music.
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