Happy Halloween - ghouls, goblins and witches!
October 31st brings Halloween to the United States and many other places around the world. Growing up we both loved the costumes, the candy and most of all the fun are hallmarks of growing up across the United States.
But as Global Citizens, it’s never that simple. As we all head out to enjoy ourselves we need to remember that our ability to enjoy these events is a privilege many do not have. Too many adolescents and youth are getting an unfair deal. Millions of young people don’t have access to basic needs and rights, including education, employment opportunities and participation in decision making.
To solve this we should not wallow in self-pity and forego our celebrations. Instead, we can celebrate by joining the #showyourselfie movement to give our global peers access to all the fun of these holidays.
So enjoy this list of the traditions celebrated in different cultures that are cousins to Halloween. Better yet, get out there and enjoy these holidays first hand. But bring your phones and cameras, and use this opportunity to show your diverse selfies. Use the hashtag #showyourselfie, and submit your visual petition for the rights of young people everywhere.
1. Ireland: Samhain, October 31
There’s a reason Ireland tops our list for Halloween traditions. Many scholars believe that the beloved holiday’s roots can be traced to Celtic Ireland about 2,000 years ago, when communities celebrated Samhain, or, the “end of summer”. On the night before Samhain, October 31, the spirits of deceased ancestors were invited home while evil spirits were warded off.
In modern day Ireland, Halloween is celebrated similarly to other countries with a few differences. In addition to costume wearing, trick or treating for youngsters, and pumpkin carving, the Irish also enjoy eating Colcannon prior to festivities (a dish of potatoes, kale, and onions), making bonfires, and bobbing for apples.
2. Austria/ Germany: Martinstag, November 11
In Germany and Austria, the holiday Martinstag bears certain similarities to Halloween. The holiday commemorates Saint Martin, who, according to legend, cut off half of his red cloak to share with a beggar during a snowstorm. After his noble action became public, the story goes that he then hid among a stable filled with geese to shy away from being honored as bishop, but the loud geese revealed his location, and for this reason Martinsgans (a traditional baked goose meal) is often eaten on this day.
Nowadays children and families take part in an evening procession, carrying paper lanterns led by a rider on a white horse, emulating St. Martin. Sometimes the procession ends with Martinsfeuer, or Martin bonfire.
3. Britain: Guy Fawkes Day, November 5
In addition to celebrating Halloween on the 31st, people in Britain celebrate Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th. Also known as Bonfire night, the holiday commemorates the day when Guy Fawkes and 12 co-conspirators tried to blow up Parliament and King James I of England November 5, 1605. Unfortunately for them-and fortunately for us, the plan failed. The night before the attack, Fawkes was discovered lurking beneath the House of Lords with a massive amount of gunpowder, giving cause to the annual celebration of thanks.
Today, the holiday is celebrated with fireworks, bonfires, and the ceremonial effigy-burning of one Guy Fawkes.
4. Israel: Purim, March
In Israel, and around the world, Jews participate in Purim to celebrate the survival of the Jewish people during Persian rule. It’s an opportunity for people of all ages to dress up in costumes and let loose. Even better, special foods like Hamantaschen (a sweet pastry filled with poppy seed) are shared. In Israel specifically, parades, street parties, and even Zombie Walks take place providing celebrators with plenty of opportunities for fun.
5. Morocco: Boujloud Festival
The Boujloud Festival, also called Moroccan Halloween, is a three-day event rooted in Berber tradition. Like many of the other traditions listed here, participants get to dress up, but you’re not going to find any witches or zombies running around. Instead, people dress up in sheepskin, bird feathers, or goatskin. Masks and facepaint complete the look, with the aim to look as bizarre as possible.
The festivities begin with the preparation of the garments, largely created by young people. Then, after dressing up, participants gather in city squares to dance and sing to music. The celebration presents an opportunity to hold onto ancient traditions and an opportunity for young people to show off their skills and creativity.
In African countries such as Malawi, Halloween is not celebrated in October. However, the use of ornate masks and costumes in rituals, dances and ceremonies throughout the year provides many parallels. Traditionally, masks represent the spirits of ancestors, evil spirits, deities, and animals -- an art of mask-making and performance that is passed down from generation to generation.
In Malawi, instead of making sugar cookies and eating sweets during Halloween season, the locals are known for making cookies called Mbatata. The cookies are made from sweet potatoes and cut in the shape of a heart to depict the warm-hearted nature of Malawian people.
7. Czech Republic: Halloween, October 23-31
In the Czech Republic, Halloween traditions begin on the 23rd of October. Before Halloween day, families visit the graves of their deceased ancestors as a sign of tribute and respect. Czech families bring wrapped boxes containing cookies and candles to place before the tombs.
On the 31st, families position chairs by the fireplace of their homes -- one chair for each living family member, and one chair for each deceased family member. Tradition holds that the spirits of the departed will be present on Hallow’s eve. At the end of the night, children are given candies and treats to conclude the festivities.
8. Japan: Obon Festival, July and August
In Japan, Buddhists commemorate their ancestors in a celebration known as the Obon Festival. During Obon, red lanterns are hung in front of houses in order to guide ancestors spirits’ to their relatives on earth. People also perform Obon dances and make food offerings to the spirits in their homes and in temples. At the end of the festival, thousands of floating lanterns are placed in rivers and lakes to lead the spirits back to the the world of the afterlife.
9. China: Teng Chieh, January - February
Teng Chieh, also known as the Lantern Festival, concludes the Chinese New Year festivities. It dates back 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 221 CE).
Akin to other traditions on this list, Teng Chieh remembers the dead and attracts heavenly spirits to earth. Lanterns are made in the shapes of dragons, birds and other animals, then hung around Chinese cities. Other activities include fireworks, dancing and special shows, such as the dragon parade.
One of the most important functions of Teng Chieh is to free spirits known as “pretas” -- those whose bodies were never properly buried. Buddhist monks recite sacred verses and offer fruit to these spirits. In the end they are believed to ascend to heaven.
10. Mexico: Dia de los Muertos, October 31- November 2
El “Dia de los Muertos,” or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday celebrated between October 31st and November 2nd. Families and friends of all ages come together to pray for their deceased loved ones and honor their memories, all in order to reconnect with their spirits. People also build private altars, called “ofrendas,” with photos and memorabilia, marigold flowers, sugar skulls, and even some of the departed’s favorite foods and beverages.
This holiday can be traced back almost 4,000 years ago, to an Aztec ceremony dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. In recent years the holiday has taken on new forms as Mexican and Latin American communities have moved around the world. For example, Tucson, Arizona in the US, holds a parade every November 2nd that combines some pagan harvest traditions with the Day of the Dead celebration
Whether or not you celebrate Halloween, there’s a lot of spook-tackular fun to be had around the world. But one thing is for sure -- the cultural traditions we practice and celebrate growing up have a meaningful impact on our lives. Looking back, we'll never forget dressing up as princesses, monsters, Disney characters, or our favorite superhero. These pivotal moments in our lives deserve remembering.
All young people -- all 1.8 billion of them -- must have the opportunities to mark their smooth transition to adulthood and determine their own future.That’s why must invest in youth -- because their needs matter, and because unlocking their potential is needed to create a sustainable future. Now is the time for governments everywhere to act to ensure a healthy and prosperous future for all young people. If you agree, put on your costume, take your selfie, and stand up for our next generation!
Christina Nuñez, Leticia Pfeffer