Halloween is one of the World’s oldest holidays. The name Halloween is a Scottish contraction, derived from the proper name “All Hallow’s Eve.” It was named such because it falls on the night before the Catholic “All Hallows” day, or, “All Hallowed Souls” day. Halloween is also known as the Day of the Dead. Throughout the world, many countries celebrate Halloween, each in their own unique ways.
In Austria it was once believed that leaving bread and water on a table with a lit lamp would help welcome dead souls back to Earth on this powerfully cosmic night.
In Spain, a pastry named Bones of the Holy, shaped like skulls, is eaten on Halloween day. It contains anise seed and is covered with an orange glaze. Children play tricks for treats. Later on, families go to the cemetery to visit deceased family members where they remain, keeping vigil throughout the night. The next day is spent cleaning the family burial plots.
In Japan, water and food is placed in front of a photo of the dead, then lanterns are lit and set afloat in the water or next to a body of water to light the way of the dead souls back to Earth and to show them where their families can be found. It is called the Obon Festival, and it is a celebration of the memory of the dead.
German households put away all knives on Halloween night, so that the spirits returning to Earth will not be accidentally hurt during the celebrations. Cemeteries are cleaned and wreaths and lanterns are placed at family grave sites.
In Italy it is custom to set a bountiful table and then leave the house open while spending the day in church praying for the souls of the dead. They pray, hoping that the dead will return and consume the food that is left for them. One traditional food made for this day is a bread or cookie baked in commemoration of the dead called Fave dei morti (Italian for Bones of the Dead). It is made with almonds, pine nuts, sugar, eggs, and flour and shaped into large beans.
In Mexico, Halloween is celebrated with picnics, often had at the graves of dead relatives. Children run in the streets asking for coins and candy shaped as coffins or a skull and crossbones. Lanterns are hung outdoors, fireworks shows add a spectacular glow, and bonfires are ablaze. It is a very happy and festive occasion.
In Russia, blue cats, such as the Russian Blue, Burmese, and British Blue, are said to bring good luck on this day.
Ireland has celebrated Halloween for centuries. It is said that the practice of carving and lighting Jack-o’-lanterns started there. A man named “Stingy Jack” was said to be too mean to be let into heaven, but because he played so many tricks on the devil, he was also not welcomed into the netherworld. With nowhere to go after he died, “Stingy Jack” was destined to walk the earth for all eternity carrying a carved-out turnip with a glowing lump of coal inside. Soon people began making their own Jack-o’-lanterns to sit in front windows and porches to scare away Stingy Jack’s ghost.
Scotland also shares the legend of “Stingy Jack.” They hollow out turnips or potatoes and set a lit candle inside. Soul Cakes or Dirge Loaves made out of oat flour are made in hopes of keeping the souls of the dead safe.
The North American Halloween is a popular celebration. Jack-o’-lanterns are made by hollowing out pumpkins, then a face is carved and a candle is set inside. Children dress in costumes and go door to door asking for treats by chanting rhymes like “Trick or Treat,” “Halloween Apples,” or “Shell out, shell out, the witches are out.” It was once believed that on this night, souls who had not yet crossed over into the next world would come back to walk the streets, visiting their old haunts.
India celebrates Mahalaya, which is a religious ritual believed to awaken dead spirits. Following Mahalaya, it is believed the souls go back to a peaceful rest for the remainder of the year. When night falls, the people pray for help against evil spirits.
With Halloween so near, I would now like to wish you all a Happy Halloween wherever you live in the world.