10 Halloween-Like Traditions Around the World

While the U.S. celebrates Halloween, many cultures practice other traditions that share common themes.

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Photo By: Shutterstock

Photo By: Shutterstock

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Photo By: Wonderful Copenhagen

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Samhuinn Fire Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland

Many people don't realize that Halloween actually started in Ireland. Known as Samhain, or Samhuinn in Scotland, its roots stretch back more than 3,000 years, when the ancient Celts observed the passage from one year to the next. They also believed that souls transitioned during this period. Celtic New Year is still alive and well in the U.K. Experience it on Oct. 31 at the Samhuinn Fire Festival in Scotland, a popular costumed procession/performance event that winds through Edinburgh's streets. And yes, fire is involved.

Day of the Dead, Oaxaca, Mexico

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is widely celebrated throughout Mexico. It's arguably one of the most famous holidays for honoring the departed, and Oaxaca is one of the best places to experience this ancient tradition. From Oct. 31-Nov. 2, expect costumed processions with revelers sporting elaborate Day of the Dead makeup, and keep a lookout for skeleton-themed sand tapestries. Wander street markets for pan de muertos, a sweet bread, sugar skulls and other altar offerings. The party moves to local cemeteries at night, where you'll find an abundance of candles, marigolds and musicians.

Borgo a Mozzano, Tuscany, Italy

One of Italy's most popular Halloween events goes down in Borgo a Mozzano in Tuscany. The multiday event involves spooky interactive games, eerie performance theater and paranormal experiments. The grand finale happens the evening of Oct. 31 at Ponte della Maddalena (Bridge of Mary Magdalene), more commonly known as the Devil's Bridge. It dates back to the Middle Ages, and centuries of local lore involve the devil, witches and a noblewoman named Lucida. As part of the recreation of Lucida's tale, a costumed procession makes its way to the bridge and hurls Lucida into the murky depths below.

Daimonji, Kyoto, Japan

Daimonji occurs at the end of Obon, an annual Buddhist tradition where departed souls return every August to visit family. It’s common to mark the holiday with lanterns (floating and strung), traditional dancing and food offerings. Unique to Kyoto is the tradition of lighting five bonfires in the surrounding mountains — each a symbolic character — as a farewell to spirits returning home. Daimonji is the name of the mountain where the character in the photo is lit.

Village Halloween Parade, NYC

Now in its 44th year, the Village Halloween Parade, complete with giant puppets, floats and performances, continually impresses with costumes you'll never find in a store - or anywhere else. As the largest public Halloween event in the U.S., it attracted two million spectators in 2016. Those who don't feel like watching from the sidelines can actually join the 50,000 or so costumed revelers who march up Sixth Avenue in downtown Manhattan. Just bring your costume A game.

Gai Jatra, Nepal

Typically observed in late summer, Gai Jatra means Cow Festival, and this centuries-old tradition honors those who have died in the past year. Yes, cows are involved, since legend has it that cows help the departed make the journey to the other side. (Although today, it’s more common for children to dress as cows.) Since Gai Jatra is considered a celebration, music, singing, food, comedy, elaborate costumes and face paint are all part of the day’s events.

Guy Fawkes Day, England

Guy Fawkes Day, commonly called Bonfire Night, is the annual denouncing of the criminal Guy Fawkes. In the 17th century, Fawkes was part of a plot to assassinate King James I, but got caught before igniting gunpowder barrels. Since explosives were part of the original plan, fireworks feature prominently today. Visit Sussex county Rye, Lewes in November to also witness costumed, torchlit processions, raging bonfires and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes - and modern-day public figures.

Fastelavn, Denmark

Fastelavn is celebrated throughout Scandinavia, and though its roots have more in common with Mardi Gras, its traditions are more in line with today’s Halloween. It usually falls in February, when costumed children go door to door singing for candy or fastelavnsboller, sweet, cream-filled buns. Unlike Halloween in the states, kids also whack a candy-filled barrel decorated with images of black cats. Known as cat bashing, let’s just say this tradition is watered down from the original. Some towns in Denmark like Vanløse take Fastelavn to the next level with processions. The town of Amager even includes horses.

Walpurgis Night, Thale, Germany

The pagan holiday Walpurgis Nacht, or Witches Night, on April 30 is still marked in pockets throughout Europe and Scandinavia. Instead of honoring ancestors, as do many Halloween-like holidays, ancient folktales believed that witches flew on broomsticks from Thale to Brocken Mountain, where they worshipped the devil around a raging bonfire. Today, large crowds of costumed witches and devils descend upon the tiny village for a day-long party, parade and bonfire — minus the devil worship and witchcraft.

Hungry Ghost Festival, Asia

Throughout Asia, ancestors don’t just return for a visit; these hungry ghosts also expect gifts. To appease them, the living burn paper offerings of food, money, phones, cars, homes and more. Also called Yu Lan, the month-long Buddhist festival is held in the seventh month on the lunar calendar (this year it's August) throughout China, Singapore, Indonesia, and other countries with sizable Chinese populations. Hong Kong is known for staging traditional Chinese operas to entertain spirits, while Singapore is known for more modern-day concerts as well. Elsewhere, Ziyuan County in China is one of the most magical spots to watch floating water lanterns for the holiday.

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