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10 Fascinating Halloween Customs from Around the World

It's that spooky time of year when fun-seekers throw costume parties and go trick-or-treating in neighbourhoods across the country. But, how is October 31 celebrated internationally? Here's what we found out.

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Dracula's Castle in Transylvania, RomaniaPhoto: Shutterstock

Halloween Customs in Romania

On October 31, Romanians celebrate Halloween around the myth of Dracula, a real-life early 15th century Romanian prince who also had the nickname of “Vlad the Impaler.” Sighisoara, the city where Vlad the Impaler was born, is the site of the country’s most popular Halloween festivities, which include historical reenactments of Transylvanian witch trials. The modern-day popularity of Dracula is also credited to Irish author Bram Stoker, who fictionalized the character as “Count Dracula” in his classic 1897 Gothic horror novel.

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Pile of red applesPhoto: Shutterstock

Halloween Customs in Ireland

Believed to be the country in which Halloween originated, the tradition is celebrated in Ireland much in the same way as it is in Canada, with children dressing up in costumes to spend the evening trick-or-treating in their neighbourhoods. Parties are also thrown where games such as apple-bobbing and “snap-apple” (players try to take a bite out of an apple hanging on a string), as well as treasure hunts for kids are organized. Eating “barmbrack”, a type of homemade or store-bought fruitcake, is also popular during Halloween.

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Lanterns from Obon Festival in JapanPhoto: Shutterstock

Halloween Customs in Japan

The Japanese celebrate the Obon Festival (also known as “Matsuri” or “Urabon”), which has similarities to Canadian Halloween festivities, despite being held at a different time of year (the festival is observed in July or August instead of October). Special foods are prepared and bright red lanterns are hung everywhere in honour of the spirits of deceased loved ones and ancestors. During the Obon Festival, a fire is lit nightly to help show ancestors where their families might be found. Lighted candles in lanterns are set afloat on rivers and seas, gravestones are cleaned, and dances are performed in the community.

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Burning candlesPhoto: Shutterstock

Halloween Customs in Belgium

The Halloween customs of Canada and the United States spread in the early 1990s to continental Europe, and the spooky holiday continues to become increasingly popular in this Western European country. Beginning in early October, just as in Canada, Belgian stores are stocked with popular Halloween-themed merchandise, and young children and students dress up on Halloween for parties and parades. Candles are also lit on Halloween night in memory of dead relatives.

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Hong Kong DisneylandPhoto: GuoZhongHua/Shutterstock

Halloween Customs in Hong Kong

There are not one, but two, ways of celebrating Halloween in Hong Kong. The first involves the event of “Yue Lan” (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts), and is an opportunity to offer gifts to spirits of the dead to provide them comfort as well as ward them off. The second (and more commercialized) event is celebrated by expatriate Canadians and Americans, and this is evident at attractions such as Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park, which host annual Halloween shows and parties.

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Mexican Day of the Dead FestivalPhoto: Kobby Dagan/Shutterstock

Halloween Customs in Mexico

In Mexico, Halloween is known as “El Dia de los Muertos,” or “The Day of the Dead.” The three-day celebration begins on October 31 and ends on November 2, “All Souls’ Day.” Unlike in Canada where the focus is on the spooky and scary side of the supernatural, Mexicans view this as a joyous holiday that honours deceased loved ones. Families often construct an altar in their home and decorate it with candy, flowers, as well as the deceased’s photographs, and favourite foods and drinks.

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Pumpkins on porch during Halloween seasonPhoto: Shutterstock

Halloween Customs in England

During the early 15th century, when Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation began to spread, the English stopped celebrating Halloween. Since followers of the new religion did not believe in saints, they saw no reason to celebrate the Eve of All Saints’ Day. In recent years, however, Halloween has taken on a secular tone, with English children copying the North American tradition of going door-to-door to “trick or treat” while dressed up in costumes.

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Italian almond cookiesPhoto: Shutterstock

Halloween Customs in Italy

Thanks in part to the global reach of American television programs, Halloween has become a popular celebration among Italian kids. Somewhat tied into Halloween is the holiday of All Souls’ Day on November 1, in which each region celebrates by preparing their traditional dishes and dressing up in costumes. Fave dei morti, Italian cookies shaped like fava beans, are typically prepared in the Marche region around “Giorno dei Morti” (All Souls’ Day). The origin of this recipe dates back to pre-Christian time when fava beans were used as ritual offering to the dead and supernatural gods.

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Sweet chocolate candy for HalloweenPhoto: Shutterstock

Halloween Customs in Brazil

Celebrating Halloween in the Canadian and American style is a fairly recent and localized phenomenon in Brazil. It is, however, increasing in popularity among children in the larger urban parts of this South American country. The mimicking of North American Halloween traditions has been largely criticized by some Brazilians to the point where officials of left-wing nationalist parties have proposed that October 31 be called “Dia do Saci” (Saci’s Day) and a celebration of popular Brazilian folklore character Saci as a symbol of resistance against American influence.

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Kali statue inside ashramPhoto: Shutterstock

Halloween Customs in India

Instead of Halloween, Kali Puja is a festival celebrated in India that honours the Hindu goddess Kali for defeating the evil demon Raktabija. Taking place in the month Kartika, which coincides with October and November in the Julian and Gregorian calendars, the puja ceremony is held on the night of the new moon as people believe this is the night when evil forces rise up. In Nepal, children sing songs and dance around in their community to collect food, sweets and money, as well as bless the households they visit.

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