Halloween may be an American tradition, but its roots go way back. All the best superstitions of the Roman, Celtic, Catholic and European folk traditions, as well as good old American greed, have morphed into the modern-day celebration of Halloween. Second only to Christmas in spending, this superstition-rich amalgam of a holiday has become a celebration of our need to embrace our more base desires. See how countries around the world put their own spooky spin on Halloween, as well as honor spirits from beyond the grave.
Where Christmas celebrates good cheer, Halloween has become a night for sensual, sybaritic revelry in the United States. It’s a chance to mask our socially-accepted selves and explore the darker side of our nature in a fun, harmless manner. What started in Europe as a day to cast out evil spirits and keep them from ruining crops or starting other mayhem, has become a celebration of self-indulgence -- especially for children, who get to dress up and go from house to house demanding “trick or treat!” Big Halloween events in the US include: Guavaween, Tampa, FL; Festival of the Dead, Salem, MA; West Hollywood Halloween Carnival, West Hollywood, CA; and Fetish & Fantasy Halloween Ball, Las Vegas.
The French are not typically fain to adopt any celebration with a bourgeois whiff to it, but in recent years, with the help of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Francophile ex-pats, Halloween is taking root in France. And, of course, the French love to dress up and have a party. The jury is still out on if Halloween is gonna stick, but you can be sure that when Yves St. Laurent puts a Halloween costume on the fashion runway, the French take notice. The town of Limoges, goes all out each year with a parade of ghosts and ghouls, and the American Dream Diner in Paris celebrates Halloween robustly as well.
No nation celebrates the dead with festivities better than Mexico. In fact, “Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead), is celebrated over several days, from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2. It’s not Halloween at all, but rather a way that All Souls Day comes to life in Mexico. The celebration offers a chance to remember the deceased, tell their stories and celebrate their lives. Family feasts, skull-shaped sweets, lots of tequila, dancing and mariachi music, as well as parades of people dressed as skeletons, all ensure that one’s ancestors are well remembered. The celebration is embraced across Mexico, with huge festivities even in the smallest of villages.
The traditional birthplace of Halloween, Ireland is, naturally, home to one of the biggest celebrations: the Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival in County Meath, where an ancient Celtic festival we now know as Halloween began more than 2,000 years ago. Throughout the country, Halloween is welcomed with bonfires, party games and traditional food, such as barmbrack, an Irish fruitcake that contains coins, buttons, rings and other fortunetelling objects; and, of course, beer (among other drinks of choice). Fortunetelling is part of the old Irish Halloween tradition. If a young woman gets a ring that has been baked in a pastry or bread or even mashed potatoes, then she’ll be married by next Halloween. Tricks are also part of the Irish Halloween scene. Kids knock on doors, then run away before the doors get opened by the owner. Hopefully, this takes place after they’ve already acquired the candy during a previous foray through the neighborhood.
In Germany, Halloween is celebrated as All Saints Day. In southern Germany, it’s celebrated from October 30 to November 8. Typically, in this and many other Catholic parts of the world, the All Saints Day is spent attending church, honoring the saints who have died for the Catholic faith, as well as visiting and remembering dead family members, usually graveside. Additionally, Germans hide their knives, so the returning spirits presumably won’t get harmed by random knife movements during the day.