How Halloween is Celebrated Around the World: NPR

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Crowds gather in England on November 5th to see fireworks and bonfires in celebration of Guy Fawkes Day.

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Crowds gather in England on November 5th to see fireworks and bonfires in celebration of Guy Fawkes Day.

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

While Halloween conjures up images of candy and costumes in the US, the holiday looks different around the world. Here’s a breakdown of how the holiday is celebrated in seven other countries.

Mexico

While kids in Mexico can also trick-or-treat on October 31, it serves as a primer for another celebration: el Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, which occurs on November 2. Observers say the Mexican holiday, which dates back 3,000 years in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, occurs when the gates of heaven open, allowing the spirit of a departed loved one to be reunited with their surviving family.

Family members can prepare a feast of the deceased’s favorite foods or leave gifts at their gravesite. Festival-goers wear skull masks and eat skull-shaped candy. And the holiday, once only celebrated in rural, indigenous parts of the country, is now celebrated in major cities, including the capital, Mexico City.

England

The increasing popularity of Halloween in pop culture means British children can take part in the holiday. But like other countries, it can often be overshadowed by another, much bigger event: Guy Fawkes Day.

On November 5, British citizens celebrate the failed assassination of King James I by Guy Fawkes and others involved in the plot. Because Fawkes tried to kill the king with kegs of gunpowder – before he was found by authorities and sentenced to death – the holiday is celebrated with bonfires across the country. And instead of trick-or-treating for candy, kids will run around asking for a “penny for the guy.”

Italy

On November 1, Italians celebrate Ognissanti, or “All Saints’ Day,” a festival with deep religious undertones. While it is common to see Italian holidays dedicated to a specific saint, this holiday is dedicated to all saints as a whole.

How the holiday is celebrated varies from region to region: in Sicily, the deceased rise from the dead to bring gifts to good children, while in Sardinia, children go door to door asking for offerings from the deceased. The Romans eat near the graves of their loved ones, while the people of Abruzzo and Trentino make lanterns by placing candles in gourds.

Guatemala

The Guatemalans also honor the dead in the first days of November. During the Barriletes Gigantes, or “giant kites” festival, Guatemalans populate the skies with huge, colorful kites.

The kites – which can fly up to 40 feet in the air – are often hand-painted and flown over the graves of loved ones who have died. The dragons are said to represent a bridge between the living and the dead.

Japan

Halloween is a new holiday in Japan and the country embraces western tradition while adding its own influence. As there are other holidays in Japan celebrating the deceased including Obon, trick or treating is not as popular.

Instead, Halloween in Japan is all about the costumes. Revelers, who are usually adults, don costumes and go to parties and clubs instead.

Ireland

To say that Halloween is a big deal in Ireland is an understatement: this is where the celebrations even started. Halloween as it is known today evolved from the ancient festival of Samhain, which celebrated the start of winter in pagan Ireland more than 2,000 years ago.

Festivals take place across the country: from the Púca Festival, which celebrates the folklore behind the Celtic holiday, to the Derry Halloween Festival in the northern part of the island.

China

In China, the Qingming Festival, celebrated in early April, is the holiday celebrating the deceased. Also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, the event attracts Chinese to literally sweep – and clean – the graves of their loved ones. The act is considered one of the most respectful acts one can do in honor of the deceased.

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