Although most Americans spend Halloween dressing up and trick-or-treating, other countries have their own celebratory rituals. Here are 20 Halloween (and Halloween-like) traditions from around the world.
1. Samhain // Ireland And Scotland
Ireland is considered the birthplace of modern Halloween, with its origins stemming from ancient Celtic and Pagan rituals and a festival called Samhain, or Samhuinn, which took place thousands of years ago. Today, both Ireland and Scotland celebrate Halloween with bonfires, games, and traditional foods like barmbrack, an Irish fruitcake that contains coins, buttons, and rings for fortune telling.
2. Día De Los Muertos // Mexico
From November 1 to November 2, Mexico and parts of Latin America celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) to honor those who have passed away. It is believed that the Gates of Heaven open up at midnight on October 31 and the souls of children return to Earth to be reunited with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the souls of adults come down from heaven to join in the festivities.
3. Day Of Dracula // Romania
People from all around the world flock to celebrate Halloween at Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes’s purported home at Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania (although it was never actually his castle, and there’s been a long-running debate over whether he ever even visited the site).
4. Kawasaki Halloween Parade // Japan
At the end of every October for the past 21 years, nearly 4000 costumed Halloween enthusiasts from all around the world have gathered in Kawasaki, just outside Tokyo, for the Kawasaki Halloween Parade, which is the biggest parade of its kind in Japan. However, not everyone can simply join in the festivities. The Kawasaki Halloween Parade has strict guidelines and standards for participating, so you have to apply for entry and pay a fee before the parade begins (watching, however, is free).
5. Pangangaluluwa // The Philippines
Pangangaluluwa is a tradition in the Philippines in which children go door to door, often in costumes, where they sing and ask for prayers for those stuck in purgatory. While the rituals have increasingly been supplanted by trick-or-treating over the years, some towns are working to revive Pangangaluluwa as a way of keeping the tradition alive, and as a local fundraiser.
6. The Hungry Ghost Festival // Hong Kong
On the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, which is around mid-August to mid-September, the people of Hong Kong celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festival. In several parts of East Asia, people believe that spirits get restless around this time of year and begin to roam the world. The festival is a way to “feed” these spirits both the food and money they need for the afterlife. It’s part of a larger month-long celebration that also features burning paper and food offerings.
7. Pitru Paksha // India
For 16 days during the second Paksha of the Hindu lunar month of Bhadrapada, many people in India celebrate Pitru Paksha. In the Hindu religion, it is believed that when a person dies, Yama—the Hindu god of death—takes his or her soul to purgatory, where they'll find their last three generations of a family. During Pitru Paksha, the souls are briefly allowed to return to Earth and be with their families.
8. Dzień Zaduszny // Poland
In early November, people across Poland travel to cemeteries to visit the graves of their family members (Dzień Zaduszny is like the equivalent of All Souls' Day for Catholics in the country). The holiday is celebrated with candles, flowers, and an offering of prayers for departed relatives. On the second day, people attend a requiem mass for the souls of the dead.
9. Awuru Odo Festival // Nigeria
The Awuru Odo Festival marks the return of dearly departed friends and family members back to the living. Lasting up to six months, the holiday is celebrated with feasts, music, and masks before the dead return to the spirit world. Although the Odo Festival is an important ritual, it happens once every two years, when it is believed the spirits will return to Earth.
10. Pchum Ben // Cambodia
From the end of September to the middle of October, Buddhist families gather together to celebrate Pchum Ben, a religious holiday to celebrate the dead. People give foods like sweet sticky rice and beans wrapped in banana leaves, and visit temples to offer up baskets of flowers as a way to pay respect to their deceased ancestors. It’s also a time for people to celebrate the elderly.
11. Ognissanti // Italy
All Saints' Day, November 1, is a national holiday in Italy. Better known as Ognissanti, the festivities usually begin a couple of days before, when people begin leaving fresh flowers—generally chrysanthemums—on the graves of departed loved ones, as well as complete strangers, turning the country's cemeteries into a beautiful display of colors. Italians also pay tribute to the departed by putting a red candle in the window at sunset, and set a place at the table for those spirits they hope will pay a visit.
12. All Saints' Day And All Souls' Day // Worldwide
On November 1, many Catholics around the world celebrate All Saints' Day, followed by All Souls' Day on November 2. It’s an annual time to honor the lives of the saints who died for their Catholic beliefs, as well as the souls of dead family members. In observance of the holiday, people go to mass and visit the graves of their loved ones.
While the event is celebrated worldwide, Germany has its own tradition: Many hide their kitchen knives, so that returning spirits won't be accidentally harmed (or use the same knives to harm the living).
13. Kukeri // Bulgaria
Kukeri is probably the best costume party in the world. It’s a centuries-old Thracian tradition that takes place across Bulgaria over the last weekend of January. People from villages and towns across the country come together for the largest celebration, which is held in a Pernik town square, just outside the capital city Sofia, to parade their monster costumes. Each village has a distinct monster costume style, but all are intended to chase evil spirits away. The costumes include masks, hair, bells, and wooden structures that truly are impressive. The parades go last for two whole days to ensure every group of monsters has their chance to scare away the bad spirits.
14. Gai Jatra // Nepal
Gai Jatra is an annual festival that honors deceased friends and family members with singing and dancing. The joy and laughter eases the pain of grief while celebrating the dead. It takes place in the Kathmandu Valley in July or August, depending on how the lunar Nepalese calendar falls each year. People, usually the children present, don cow costumes or put on cow masks. Gai Jatra has its origins in the Journey of the Cow, a funeral rite where a family would parade a cow or ox through town before donating it to the temple to ensure the soul of the deceased family member finds peace.
15. Tết Trung Nguyên // Vietnam
Another incarnation of the hungry ghost festival, Tết Trung Nguyên in Vietnam, is a time for the forgiveness and freedom of condemned souls (ghosts) who are released from hell. The ghosts of ancestors are “fed” and pleased with offerings of food. People cook flower porridge and present offerings including popcorn, paper money, and paper clothes to assist the ghosts and help them to transcend limbo or hell, as well as accumulate wealth. This is believed to bring merit for self and family. The festival has its origins in a Buddhist legend about the story of Bodhisattva Muc Kien Lien saving his mother from hungry ghosts.
16. Hari Raya Galungan // Indonesia
Hari Raya Galungan is celebrated among the Hindu communities of Bali and some other islands of Indonesia. It honors the ancestors who return to visit their former homes during this two-week long festival. It sounds a bit like Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, but in essence it is more like India’s Diwali, as it similarly celebrates the triumph of dharma (good) over adharma (evil). During the celebrations, the islands are decorated with colorful religious votives and offerings of foods, paper money, and flowers are made to deities. The festival occurs every 210 days, calculated according to the Balinese pawukon calendar.
17. Radonitsa // Russia
Radonitsa, meaning “Day of Rejoicing” in Russian, is a festival that remembers the dearly departed on the second Tuesday of Pascha (Easter). On this eastern “All Souls Day,” people visit graveyards to offer prayers for the departed, then eat a meal at the graves of their loved ones. Radonitsa has been known to be an occasion of heavy drinking and partying, both in the cemetery and elsewhere, to celebrate the life of the dead. The festival also notes the beginning of “marriage season,” as weddings cannot be held in Lent according to Orthodox Catholic tradition.
18. Totensonntag // Germany
Totensonntag, held the Sunday before Advent starts, is a Protestant holiday in Germany. King Frederick William III of Prussia first recognized the holiday in 1816 to mourn his wife, Duchess Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of Prussia, who died in 1810 and to commemorate those who died in the War of Liberation in 1813. Traditions include visiting cemeteries during the day to honor deceased family members and friends. All German states except Hamburg have special laws to maintain Totensonntag as a day of silent memorials, so noise restrictions in public places are common.
19. La Toussaint // Brittany, France
Brittany in central France knows All Saints’ Day as La Toussaint. In the past, this festival of the dead, with strong Celtic roots, would see Brittons honor their ancestors by leaving large fires burning near graves overnight. People would spend the night in the cemetery, kneeling bare-headed at the graves of their loved ones, and douse their tombstones with holy water or pour milk on it. At bedtime, a plate of dinner was left out on the kitchen table for the deceased.
20. Jum il-Mejtin // Malta
On the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta, All Souls' Day, called Jum il-Mejtin in Maltese, traditionally included some noisy culinary traditions. A pig would be let loose on the village streets with a loud bell around its neck. Once caught by the wealthy village leaders, the pig would be killed, roasted, and served as dinner to the entire neighborhood to feed the poor workers of the area. Nowadays, throughout the whole month of November, the dead are remembered and commemorated and local confectionists bake sweet pastries in the shape of a bone, decorated with white icing on top.
This story was originally published in 2019; it has been updated for 2021.