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Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Dia de los Muertos

In Mexico, Latin American countries and Spain we have a three-day long celebration of All Souls’ Day, which traditionally is November 2. This celebration begins in the evening on October 31, and is in honor of the dead who are believed to return to visit their earthly homes and families on Halloween (October 31). Many families will have an altar in their homes where they honor their deceased relatives, and especially on this holiday they will decorate it with photos, flowers, candy, fresh water and bites of favorite foods. They might also leave out a wash basin and towel so the spirit can wash up before feasting.

It is also traditional to burn candles and increase to light the way home for the spirits. Family also take this time to tidy the gravesites of any weeds, make repairs, that kind of thing, and then they decorate the grave with wreaths and flowers. On November 2, All Soul’s Day, the families gather at the gravesites to picnic and celebrate.

**Some sources cite that this holiday does take place in Spain, while others (and a friend of mine who studied in Spain) say that this holiday began in Mexico and only takes place in Latin American countries. I am going to go with my sources being wrong and the true holiday does NOT take place in Spain; however, I do know that there are some similar traditions honoring the dead there.

Guy Fawkes Day

In England, Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated on November 5 with bonfires, fireworks and burning effigies. There are quite a few of the same traditions as Halloween used for this, but it really has very little to do with the celebration of Samhain. The English mostly stopped participating in Samhain traditions during the Protestant Reformation, which is pretty interesting if you ask me. The followers of Protestantism did not vibe with saints, so there was really no reason to celebrate All Saints’ Day. Thus, they adopted Guy Fawkes Day to kind of take its place as an autumnal ritual.

Guy Fawkes was executed on November 5, 1606, after being convicted of attempting to blow up England’s Parliament building. He was a member of a Catholic group who wanted to remove Protestant King James from his throne- called the Gunpowder Plot. why do they celebrate this, you ask? Not because they’re celebrating Guy Fawkes- cause I was confused about this at first. The celebration is for the FOILING OF THE PLOT, wherein the King was not killed. PS, we’re going to be talking MORE about this next week, with our movie of the month- V for Vendetta. So make sure y’all come back for that.

The very first Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated right after his execution- the first bonfires (the word comes from BONE fires) were set to burn the symbolic “bones” of the Catholic Pope. two hundred years later, they began replacing the effigies of the Pope with those of Guy Fawkes himself. Children in some parts of England began carrying a small effigy of Guy and would ask for “a penny for the guy”- this is as close to “trick or treating” as they really come.

Halloween in Ireland

So Halloween, or Samhain (pronounced Hahwayne in Gaelic) is actually celebrated quite similarly to how it is in the US. Bonfires are lit in rural areas, carrying down the tradition of our Celtic ancestors. Children dress up in costume and trick or treat in their neighbors. After the kids are finished up, people go to parties with neighbors and friends, where the play games, bob for apples, arrange treasure hunts for the kids and play music.

Per my research, a traditional Halloween food in Ireland is barnbrack- a sweet fruitcake bread thing with a muslin-wrapped treat inside that foretells the future of the person eating it. A ring inside means that the person will soon get married, a piece of straw means a prosperous year, and so on.

Plus, for the trick portion of the holiday, kids love to play pranks on their neighbors- the classic ding-dong ditch literally originated here I think lol.

China Halloween as we know it in the USA is really only celebrated amongst ex-pat communities in China; however, there is a uniquely Chinese cultural version, celebrated over a few days! Much like Dia de los Muertos, the Chinese celebrate the Ghost Festival. I imagine this probably loses a little something in translation.

So this is a Buddhist and Taoist holiday, celebrated on the 15th night of the 7th month of the lunar calendar. The entire seventh month in general is called Ghost Month, where ghosts and spirits, especially those of deceased ancestors, came come to our world from the lower realm. This is very different from the other holidays where homage is paid to the ancestors, because first of all, during the Ghost Month the ancestors can VISIT you. You’re not just giving them offerings. Secondly, during Ghost Month ALL deceased are honored, not just ancestors- so if you have a child who passed, for example, this is when you would celebrate them.

In Taosim and Buddhism, on the 15th day the realms of Heaven, Hell and the realm of the living are open. This led to rituals being performed to try to absolve any suffering of the deceased, especially through the piety of their descendents. Typical traditions include food offerings to the dead, burning incense, and burning paper-mache versions of material goods (like clothes, jewelry, etc) for the dead. Similarly to the Irish lighting candles for Samhain and the Spanish (and their colonies) lighting candles and incense for Dia de los Muertos, it’s common here to release miniature paper boats and lanterns on a body of water, to give directions to lost spirits.

Japan Halloween began being celebrate in Japan in the very late nineties, when the Disney theme park took a chance and did a celebration thing- and the people fricking loved it. When Universal opened, they took it up too and the people went wild for it.

Not surprisingly, Japan is adopting Halloween mainly in bigger cities for the costumes and the celebrations. Young people love a good cosplay, so where it’s celebrated it is like a biiiiiig thing to go all out on your costumes. On the other hand, I’ve also seen where some Japanese parties/communities dress up in the most mundane costumes possible, in a funny adaptation of the often over the top holiday. So they’ll make a costume and put a sign on themselves saying “man looking for seat in cafeteria” and he’s like entirely normal but with a lunch tray and food- that kind of thing. I think that is hilariousss. In the countryside, it is very much not a thing at all- you might find some small little themed kawaii decorations in stores, but really not much at all.

Japanese customs and manners really have a big part in the whole not trick-or-treating, not going door-to-door situation more than anything. That’s just not something that could be adopted culturally- not anytime soon, at least.


Some countries are actually very emphatically AGAINST Halloween- Russia says it is against their Christian values. Back in 2019, Russia announced that the holiday is in violation of Russian law for its links to “the activities of dangerous occult organizations”, and there is no church in Russia who would allow this holiday to be celebrated. Even though the holiday has reportedly been gaining popularity with the young people in more metropolitan areas, basically just for themed parties and snacks for a wee bit of fun, the government literally created a HOTLINE for parents to call to report teachers who are trying to teach about it or have themed parties in the classroom. Wtf.

PLUS- get this before I move on to our next Halloween country- Orthodox priests said that the Joker movies depicts rebellion against bourgeois society and that that movie, in combination with celebrating Halloween, equals and attempt at Russia’s statehood. LET ME REPEAT: they clalimed that people who dressed as teh Joker for Halloween would seek to destabilize Russia’s staehood and corrupt Russia’s spiritual identity. Love it.

Rwanda actually banned Halloween festivities back in 2013. In spite of the fact that it is NOT a super popular unofficial holiday, it is known as a popular part night and they do have some themed parties. Even restaurants and clubs will decorate a bit for the night- however, the Minister for Sports and Culture issues a warning to homes, bars hotels and restaurants that “Halloween does not resonate well witht he Rwandan culture. We therefore warn all Rwandans not to hold or take part in Halloween activities.”

Many people took to Twitter and other platforms to react, saying that it’s not the government's business what the individuals do in their leisure time- especially since the government is paying zero dollars for any of these celebrations. One person pointed out that the government loved foreigners money but hated their cultures, and the ban on Halloween celebrations was far too harsh for those who want to participate, and for those for whom it is a cultural tradition. I think that’s a pretty astute observation, frankly.

Many people who agreed with the ban seemed to be concerned with its association with “immoral acts”- plus, the cultural difference in reverie around this holiday for dead vs a more somber remembrance.

France apparently has a decent amount of people who celebrate some version of Halloween, whether it be some fun decor or a wee party. However, overall the French find Halloween controversial and rather confusing. Apparently, the average French person sees Halloween as a commercial, morbid holiday from the US. Which, fair. On the surface, I totally get that.

Plus, the holiday’s heavy association with American culture (in spite of the fact that we know it’s of Celtic origin) is enough for the French to be pretty turned off by it. It also is a distraction from tradition French/Catholic celebrations of La Toussaint, or All Saints Day- aka Nov 1. This is when the French visit cemeteries and clean up loved ones graves, kind of like Dia De Los Muertos but without the costumes and mariachi. My family has certain times of the year that we do the same, so I get that you don’t want that beloved tradition overshadowed by something blatantly commercial that you feel like the Americans are pushing on you.

And then that’s another thing- the French don’t want to borrow traditions from other countries (even though they already do), especially when it’s a country associated with England. They feel like they’ll lose their French identity if they start melting in other cultures. Plus, like I said- the anglo-saxon/American associations are enough for the French to not vibe.

It’s unconventional nature doesn’t help its case with the French either; cutting up pumpkins and asking people for candy seems dumb. Fake blood? Like, why? Much like in Japan, a lot of these concepts that are traditional in American celebrations, and even in Gaelic celebrations, are just not something that’s culturally relevant or acceptable and thus something they don’t really…. Want to do.


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