If you think America is the only place where jack-o’-lanterns and scary haunted houses reign supreme in October, think again. Halloween actually originated with the pagans who lived in what today is Ireland, and nowadays the occasion is celebrated around the globe. Here are just a few highlights of international Halloween customs.
Ireland: Where Halloween Began
In Ireland, many adults light bonfires and decorate their homes with carved pumpkins and turnips. Most Irish children trick-or-treat, and adults join kids in dressing up. Irish Halloween costumes tend to be macabre; people look like performers at top-rated haunted houses. At nighttime parties, people of all ages hunt for hidden candy and play “snap-apple.” The object of this game is to sink your teeth into an apple hanging by a string. And in many Irish towns, people enjoy fireworks on Halloween night.
Remembering Lost Souls
In the Roman Catholic Church and some other Christian denominations, the evening of October 31 is All Hallows’ Eve. In other words, it’s the night preceding All Souls’ Day, a day to remember deceased loved ones. Thus, many Halloween traditions call to mind dead family members. Belgians illuminate candles to honor those they've lost. Germans make sure they never leave knives out on Halloween so that the spirits returning to Earth won’t hurt themselves. In Slovakia, people set chairs beside fireplaces on All Hallows’ Eve: one chair for every family member who’s alive and one for every departed relative. Austrians have a more elaborate ritual: They set bread and water upon a table and light a lamp beside it just before going to bed. That way, should spirits return during the night, they’ll have something to eat and drink.
A Holiday Blossoms in France
Oddly enough, the French never really celebrated Halloween until the mid-1990s. At that time, McDonald’s and other multinational corporations started running Halloween-themed advertisements in France. In addition, Disneyland Paris, a theme park that opened in 1992, began holding Halloween parties and parades for children. The French -- hard-pressed to resist any party -- soon took to the holiday enthusiastically.
The French mostly celebrate Halloween by attending parties in homes, restaurants, and nightclubs. Trick-or-treating and scary haunted houses, meanwhile, are uncommon. The trick-or-treating that does occur usually takes place at commercial venues rather than private residences.
Some French citizens still refuse to acknowledge Halloween, however, viewing it as an American affair. So will Halloween continue to thrive in France? Will the nation soon be home to some of the world’s best haunted houses? Or will this observance prove to be merely a passing fad? No one knows for sure.
Halloween the Mexican Way
In Mexico, Halloween is called "El Dia de los Muertos,” which translates to “the days of the dead.” This celebration commences the night of October 31 and extends through November 2. Despite the name of the event, Mexicans do not decorate their homes to resemble the scariest haunted houses. Rather, this holiday is a joyous occasion. That’s because many people believe that their deceased relatives return home on November 2. To welcome them, many Mexicans set up altars at home, altars adorned with photos, candies, flowers, candles, and deceased relatives’ favorite foods and beverages. This annual celebration concludes when people gather at family members’ graves to enjoy picnics and reflect upon happy times spent with their lost loved ones.
What’s more, many Mexican towns stage elaborate parades during El Dia de los Muertos. At these parades, people wearing skeleton costumes dance and others throw flowers and candies into open coffins. Surely you won’t see things like that at any haunted house in Denver.