As the sun starts to set on October 31, children dressed as ghosts and superheroes go door to door asking for candy. Along their trick-or-treating route, they’ll visit houses decorated with skeletons, spiderwebs and jack-o-lanterns.
Halloween is a popular American tradition that is associated with scary movies, costumes and tons of candy. But around the world, many October festivals and holidays focus on honoring loved ones. Let’s take a closer look at a few of October’s international celebrations.
Día de Muertos
October 31-November 2
Mexico and Latin America
Día de Muertos is a multi-day Mexican celebration with roots in indigenous culture. During this holiday, the barrier between the land of the dead and the land of the living disappears. Spirits are welcomed back with a festival complete with dancing and feasting. To honor these spirits, families decorate ofrendas (altars) with food, candles, pictures and marigolds.
Mexican artists José Guadalupe Posada and Diego Rivera popularized the calavera (skull) imagery associated with Día de Muertos. Today, many people paint their faces and dress up as skeletons during the festivities. Although costumes are part of the celebrations, Día de Muertos is not just a Latin American version of Halloween. It is a unique holiday that combines indigenous and European traditions where people show respect for their dead ancestors. For this reason, it is included on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
October 31-November 1
Ireland and Scotland
Samhain is an ancient Celtic festival dating back 2,000 years. During this holiday, it was believed that the dead could join the living for a brief period of time. It was also used as a way to welcome the harvest and the darker season.
To celebrate, many Irish people dressed up and traveled to their neighbors’ homes to sing songs about spirits. The neighbors gave out cakes to the costumed singers. This tradition of mumming likely led to modern-day trick-or-treating.
Halloween evolved from Samhain, but this ancient holiday is still celebrated by some Wiccans today. Modern Samhain festivities honor nature and ancestors and include communal bonfire ceremonies.
15 days in the 10th Month of Khmer Calendar
Pchum Ben is an important religious holiday in Cambodia where celebrants honor 7 generations of dead loved ones. This festival lasts for 15 days and takes place in the 10th month of the Khmer calendar, which typically aligns with September or October.
During Pchum Ben, spirits return from hell to roam the earth. Cambodians bring offerings of food to pagodas to appease these spirits. Bay ben (balls of sticky rice and sesame) are also thrown into the air for the hungry ancestors. It is believed that if the spirits aren’t fed, they will curse their living relatives. At the end of the festival, families gather to sing, dance and feast together.
14th-16th day of the 8th Month of Lunar Calendar
Chuseok is a three-day Korean festival honoring the harvest and ancestors. During the festival, families hold memorial services at their homes and then travel to gravesites to weed and clean up the area. They spend this time remembering their loved ones and sharing memories.
A good harvest is considered a gift from the ancestors. During Chusoek, families thank their dead relatives by gathering for a large feast, which traditionally includes songpyeon (rice cakes) and soju (rice spirit). Chusoek celebrations also include traditional Ganggangsullae (harvest dance) performances and ssireum (folk wrestling) matches.
2 weeks from late September-early October
Oktoberfest is a two-week festival that originated in Germany in 1810. The first celebration was held to honor the marriage between the crown prince of Bavaria and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. It featured a horse race on the Theresienwiese, which is why Oktoberfest is known as d’Wiesn in Munich.
The modern festival has evolved into an event that attracts more than 6-million people to Munich to enjoy local beer and the Bavarian spirit of gemütlichkeit (good cheer). In Munich, the mayor kicks off the festival by tapping the first keg. In addition to drinking beer from one of Munich’s breweries, celebrations include sampling traditional Bavarian snacks, riding carnival attractions and singing drinking songs. Celebrations are not limited to Munich and many cities around the world host their own versions of Oktoberfest each year.
What holiday will you be celebrating this October? If you are interested in learning more, browse the ALTA Beyond Words blog for additional articles about spooky celebrations.
Stephanie Brown is a New York City-based travel blogger and freelance content creator.
You can find her at The Adventuring Millennial.