Cultures around the world light up the night for the souls
Many cultures celebrate Halloween by honoring the souls of loved ones by lighting their paths back home
Most Americans celebrate Halloween in very similar fashions: carving pumpkins, attending costume parties, watching scary movies, trick-or-treating, scaring each other and enjoying tasty treats late into the night. In other countries, however, people observe different rituals.
Halloween began in Ireland as a Celtic holiday to remember souls that had passed on. Today, the Irish celebrate much like we do, attending costume parties and trick-or-treating. In many areas, they also light bonfires and play games such as snap-apple, bobbing for apples, treasure hunts and card games involving candy.
A traditional Halloween food in Ireland, barnbrack, is a fruitcake with a treat inside. The treat is said to foretell the finder’s future, a ring meaning the finder will get married or a piece of straw meaning the finder will have a good year.
In Mexico, Latin America and Spain, the day is called Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The celebrations last three days and honor the souls of those who have died. The souls are said to journey back to their homes on Halloween in many cultures, so rituals generally recognize the souls of loved ones in some way. People often light candles or incense to help guide the souls home. They also visit loved ones’ gravesites to remember them and make repairs. Gravesites are then decorated, and on the third day celebrations are held around them including food, conversation and even music.
All Souls’ Week, or Seleenwoche, in Austria is celebrated beginning on Oct. 30th. During this time people may leave bread, water and lit lamps out to help souls of the dead find their way home. On All Saints’ Day, Catholics in Austria attend a special mass to honor those who died in the name of Catholicism.
Chinese families call this holiday Teng Chieh, and leave food and water in front of pictures of dead relatives overnight to guide the souls back to the home. The families also celebrate the Feast of the Hungry Ghosts, in which earthbound souls of those who died at the hand of others or who did not receive a proper burial are honored. Food and paper gifts are donated to these souls to make them feel loved and recognized.
In Italy, almond-flavored cookies, known as Beans of the Dead, are baked in the shape of beans for All Souls’ Day. Italian Catholics celebrate this holiday in much the same way as those in the Hispanic and Austrian cultures. Families attend special masses to remember those who have passed on, and they pay respect to these souls by visiting their gravesites.
The one thing all cultures seem to have in common is the remembrance of relatives and other significant people who have died. People in most countries leave gifts or lights of some kind to welcome the souls home, and celebrations are held all over the world.