A huge part of why I travel is just to experience something different.
I am always craving the unfamiliar. I want to be surprised by how different life, beliefs, and values can be across the hundreds of cultures around the world.
But on the other side of the coin, I also love finding things that remain consistent. It is interesting to see what is universal across all or most of humankind.
Halloween, which is very American in its modern celebrations (despite originating in Europe), is actually very similar to many other autumn festivals around the world in that it holds a very common theme: death.
When you take away the silliness and child-centered traditions, Halloweens true purpose has always been about honoring those who died before us. This theme is tied to autumn months all around the world.
Where can you see examples?
Mexico – Day of the Dead
The most well-known example is Dia de los Muertos, which translates to the Day of the Dead. It is celebrated widely in Mexico and other Hispanic cultures. It is a three-day event. On the first day, it is believed that spirits will return to earth to be close to their loved ones. On the second day, families visit the graves of their family members to leave flowers and fruit. The third and final day is giant party.
India – Fortnight of Ancestors
In India, 16 days are devoted to the deceased for “Pitru Paksha” around the time of the autumn equinox. According to Hindi legend, a spirit does not fully crossover into heaven until three more generations pass away. The three generations of spirits still waiting in limbo can visit their descendants during the Fortnight of Ancestors.
Hong Kong – Double Ninth Festival
The legend behind this festival is a bit dark, and, like many ancient myths from oral traditions, the story has several versions. The basic tale is of a man that is warned of an impending danger to his village and flees to a mountaintop. When he comes back down, he finds all his neighbors dead. The festival began as a way to honor those who lost their lives that day, and now it honors all who have passed on. Families in Hong Kong will visit the cemetery to clean their family’s tombs and leave flowers and small offerings.
Italy – All Saint’s Day
What we know as Halloween today descended from this holiday which honors Christian saints. It is celebrated in all Catholic communities, and many believe it borrows ancient Celtic traditions from the pagan holiday, Samhain.
Nepal – Gai Jatra
Rather than honoring all their ancestors, this festival is primarily for remembering those who passed away in just the last year. Cows, sacred creatures and the national animal, are lined up and paraded down the street in an effort to bring joy and luck to grieving families. Food is shared among the entire community.
Madagascar – Famadihana
We’ll end on this tradition, which is a bit strange from my western perspective. Once a year, the people of Madagascar retrieve the corpses of their ancestors from the family crypts. Their remains are wrapped in cloth and brought to a large party where they are paraded around and danced with.
As much as I love the spooky fun of Halloween, I can’t help but compare it to these festivals around the world that seem to have a deeper meaning. Do you think something is missing from our western culture that could be fulfilled with a holiday like these? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.