Halloween Heard 'Round the World

Byline: Nicole Twigg

Posted: October 19, 2010

Despite its national popularity, Halloween is not in fact an international holiday. The Halloween celebrated today in America originated from the ancient Celtic festival Samhain. This festival occurred after the end of the harvesting season. During this time the community would examine how much they had harvested that year and begin their preparations for winter. On Oct. 31, the ancient Gaels believed that the borders between the living world and the spirit world would intertwine so that the dead could come back to life, wreck havoc on the people and spoil their crops.

Many Halloween traditions today come from the festival of Samhain, including trick-or-treating, costume parties, haunted houses, bonfires and even jack-o'-lanterns. The ancient Gaels would dress up in costumes of ghosts, witches and goblins in order to appease the spirits or trick them into believing the humans were ghouls themselves. The Gaels would light bonfires because they believed that fire would keep the spirits away. The idea of jack-o'-lanterns comes from Ireland where they would carve out turnips and put a light in them as a way to ward off evil spirits. When the Irish immigrated to America, turnips were not as abundant and they used pumpkins instead.

Kyoung-Joo Noh, an international student form Korea, says that Halloween is "a very important and special event." This statement does hold some truth to it. Halloween used to be an important event for the people at the end of a long season of harvesting crops, but today it is just the marking of the end of October and the coming of winter. Today, Halloween is an important and special day to children who are always excited to dress up and go from door to door asking for candy. Americans do not focus on keeping spirits away on Halloween anymore and instead see Oct. 31 as a day to receive and eat candy, dress up in costumes and go to parties. Despite this, there are other countries who still embrace their old traditions for their own holidays concerning the dead.

In Spain, Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, people celebrate El Dia de los Muertos, also known as The Day of Dead. This holiday begins the evening of Oct. 31 and lasts for three days. During El Dia de los Muertos people remember the ones they have loved and lost. Unlike Halloween's origins, The Day of the Dead is a time in which people pay their respects to the dead by laying out buffets of food in the home for the visiting spirits to enjoy and by visiting the gravesites of their lost ones.

In China, they celebrate Teng Chieh, which is also called the Ghost Festival or the Hungry Ghost Festival. During this day it is believed that the gates to the lower realm are opened and the spirits are free to roam the earth, seeking both food and entertainment. More importantly, it is believed that these ghosts are spirits of the dead who were never given a proper funeral. There are two main goals for this day: to remember the dead and to help those who were not given a proper tribute the ability to ascend to heaven.

There are other holidays in which respects are not always paid to the dead. In Ethiopia they celebrate Buhé, a holiday that usually falls around Aug. 19. Teslote Tadesse, a Wilson student originally from Ethiopia, says Halloween is "a bit wild and scary," but in fact has some very close similarities to Buhé. Teslote Tadesse also says that "Buhé is not Halloween per say but it is where children go around the neighborhood and sing the Hoya Hoye song. In return, they receive Mulmul Dabo Bread." This is very much like Halloween's tradition of Trick-or-Treating, although instead of candy, the children receive dough or bread.

Last Updated: September 25, 2011

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