The tradition of Halloween is relatively recent in Australia, brought across by expats and inspired by Hollywood movies and scenes of trick or treating. It’s now more common to see orange balloons hanging outside houses that welcome trick or treaters, but it’s no surprise that this darkest of holidays hasn’t quite taken root in Australia. Halloween is believed to have originated in Ireland with the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which marks the end of the light half of the year. Living in a mild climate, Australians are more naturally inclined to take part in outdoor sport than to huddle around a fire telling scary stories in the dark. If you’re looking for the genuine article, it might be worth travelling further afield for a spooky experience – or maybe take some of these traditions and make them your own.
The home of Halloween
Scotland and Ireland both still retain elements of Samhain, including lighting bonfires, telling fortunes and reflecting on both the year gone by and the future. It is still a prominent festival in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Europe’s largest Halloween carnival is held in Londonderry. The Banks of the Foyle includes a haunted house and a grand parade. Traditional food for the festival incorporates the spirit of the festival an Irish fruitcake that contains coins, buttons, and rings. Any item you receive in your slice of cake is meant to predict your future, so for example, rings mean marriage, while coins mean wealth in the upcoming year.
Halloween across Europe
All Souls’ Day on 1st November is primarily a religious festival in Italy, a time for people to remember their late ancestors and family members. Many other countries in Europe have lost loved ones at the heart of their celebrations. In Austria, some people will leave bread, water and a lighted lamp out at night to welcome the dead souls back to earth for one night. In Belgium, people light candles in memory of dead relatives but in Germany, the arrival of spirits is less welcome. Germans traditionally put their knives away on Halloween night to prevent harm to and from returning ghosts. .
Festival of the Hungry Ghosts
Hong Kong’s celebration, Yue Lang or festival of the hungry ghosts is centred on the belief that spirits roam the world for 24 hours. Pictures of fruit or money are sometimes burned in the hope that these will reach the spirit world and bring comfort. Many light fires as welcome, but like the Germans they are aware that not all ghosts may be friendly. Food and gifts are left out to placate any angry ghosts looking for revenge or to cause harm to the family.
Día de los Muertos
One of the most famous celebrations takes place across Mexico and Latin America. It is not the same as Halloween, but bears some similarities. The Day of the Dead celebrations start on the evening of 31st October and last for three days. It is considered a time to respect, as well as remember the dead and relatives gather at gravesites to tidy the area, clearing out weeds and making repairs while they reminisce. Often families bring a picnic with food such as spicy meat dishes, batter bread and lots of sweets. The festival captures the cycle of life, both the joy and the sadness and with people dressed as skeletons and their ancestors, the dead are invited to the party. Despite the name of the festival, the focus is very much on celebrating all aspects of life, from beginning to end.
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