Halloween Around the World

holiday_halloween_headerHalloween is one of the few global holidays. In mid-autumn, Halloween around the world is celebrated by millions of people in a myriad of ways. What began as a blend of Christian and pagan customs celebrating the Catholic Saints in 16th century Ireland is now a multi-million dollar industry rivaled only by Christmas. As the tradition of celebrating the departed spread west to the Americas and east to Asia, Halloween celebrations incorporated the local traditions of each culture that adopted it.

Long before Halloween became popular in Germany, German Protestants celebrated Reformationstag, the German translation of “Reformation Day,” on October 31. Reformationstag commemorates the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Keeping with tradition, German children today celebrate by eating chocolate candies shaped like Martin Luther, the Reformation’s leader. Some young Germans in cities participate in Süßes oder Saures, the German translation of trick-or-treating, but nearly all German children do something very similar a few days later: On November 10, young Germans go door-to-door carrying lanterns and sing songs for baked goods in a tradition called St Martinstag.

Many older Germans celebrate Halloween American style by dressing up and going to Halloween parties, or they visit places like Burg Frankenstein, a castle in Darmstadt that has been haunted for a millennium. Jack-o-lanterns have also become popular in Germany thanks to the pumpkin festival in Austria.

Western traditions are catching on among young people in East Asia, but autumn is best known for the festival of hungry ghosts, for which the Chinese translation is “Yu Lan.” Like the Irish Catholics of centuries past, Asian cultures take time to honor their ancestors; however, they take the tradition a bit further. Shops close at night to allow wayward ghosts to wander the streets, and theater patrons avoid sitting in the front rows to allow ghosts to have the best seats. Families also flock to Buddhist temples to present food and other offerings to pictures of their lost loved ones. Two weeks later, monks set lanterns on paper boats adrift to direct the dead back to the realm of the spirits. Though Halloween has no direct Chinese translation, its themes are similar to Yu Lan.

This October when you’re suiting up in your Batman costume, take pride in knowing that you are celebrating Halloween around the world along with millions of your fellow humans.