“Boo!” Heard Around the World: An International Look at Halloween Posted by on Oct 31, 2014 in Archived Posts

Take break from searching for the perfect costume and step away from the candy (or come share with us!) to see what other cultures around the world are doing this Halloween.

The American way of celebrating Halloween made its way to Denmark in the late 90s, though many Danes claim it is just another example of a media stunt promoted by the supermarkeder (supermarkets) so they can sell legetøj (toys) and kostumer (costumes). Sounds similar to how many Americans feel about Valentine’s Day, right? Regardless, Danish children enjoy carving pumpkins and bounding door to door proclaiming Slik eller ballade! (Trick or treat!)

The holiday hasn’t gotten quite as big in China, but among younger generations of Chinese people, Halloween is definitely gaining popularity. The Chinese call the holiday 万圣节 (wàn shèng jié), which literally translates to 10,000 Saints Festival. From school activities, to family-friendly events, and of course, plenty of parties and concerts to attend, it really seems to be catching on, especially in the bigger cities.

Similarly, although Halloween has no roots in German culture, you can definitely expect the holiday to make an appearance. Horror movies come on TV, children dress up for trick-or-treating, and clubs host Halloween parties. There are, however, a number of more popular German traditions similar to Halloween, or that occur around the same time, which range from religious events to more commercial celebrations. For example, being predominantly Catholic, Bavaria (Southern Germany) and Austria celebrate Seelenwoche (All Souls’ Week) from October 30th to November 8th. It is a week of remembrance to honor the dead and visit family graves with fresh flowers and lanterns.

The same is true in Spain (and in most Spanish speaking countries), where people prepare themselves  to visit their loved ones in their final resting place (the cemetery) for All Saint’s Day. There is, however, a popular literary tradition: many Spanish theatres will put on José Zorrilla’s masterpiece, Don Juan Tenorio, which tells the story of a young, cynical swordsman who seduces a noblewoman. The story gets juicier and juicier from there, but we won’t spoil it here!

Meanwhile, children in the Arab world are anxiously awaiting their own version of Halloween, known as Saint Barbara’s Holiday (عيد القديسة بربارة). Unfortunately, they’ll have to wait all the way until December 4 to partake in the customary trick-or-treating. After going door to door for candy, children roam the streets singing the traditional song about Saint Barbara. The myth tells of a young girl who wishes to devote her life to serving Allah, but whose father has betrothed her to a pagan prince. Quite the dilemma, as you can imagine.

So while you’re bounding door to door collecting candy—or enviously watching as your children do so—think about how many other children are doing so worldwide. It may not be the most traditional of holidays, but it’s exciting to see other countries partaking in the joys of looking silly (or spooky!) and grossly over-consuming sugar for one night. And if you’re in need of some inspiration for your own costume, why not choose from one of these popular Ancient Roman costumes!

Do you celebrate Halloween in your country? What’s your favorite Halloween tradition?

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