7 Strange Halloween Traditions from Around the World
When the first frosts begin to appear in the night, many people young and old start eagerly anticipating the start of Halloween season. Sometimes, people are so excited that jack-o’-lanterns, sheaves of corn, and fake spider’s webs go up on the first day of October; we all know that Halloween candy has already been in stores for weeks.
For most Americans, Halloween means trick-or-treating, parties with orange and black foods, and lots of miniature candy bars. For people of other nationalities, Halloween can signify a completely different type of celebration. Here are some of the strangest Halloween traditions that are practiced around the world.
1. Samhain – United Kingdom
Many of the holidays, religious or otherwise, that we celebrate today stem from Gaelic tradition. Samhain is one of four seasonal festivals, which also include Imbolc [marks the beginning of spring], Beltaine [marks the beginning of summer], and Lughnasadh [marks the harvest season]. Samhain marks the completion of a successful harvest and serves as a transition into the winter season.
Although many Halloween customs are associated with death and the occult, this arose out of a natural desire to celebrate the completion of a harvest, which also marked the necessary death of plants and animals, so that humans could eat through the winter. In the modern United Kingdom, many people who practice Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism pay tribute to their roots by celebrating Samhain traditions during Halloween. One common way to celebrate the season is to build two bonfires on Halloween night and dance through them in a rite of purification.
Traditionally, farmers would bring their livestock and drive them between the flames, but now that’s been replaced with a ceremonial passage of people and goods. There’s often a meal shared between family members and friends, where there are places laid for the ancestors, and a candle placed in a Western-facing windowsill to guide the dead back home.
2. Bread and Water for Ghosts – Austria
Austria is a country with a deep religious heritage, and although there are some young people who celebrate an American-style Halloween complete with parties and candy, the majority of the country uses the week of October 30th to November 8th to celebrate Seelenwoche, or All Soul’s Week. During the week, families leave out glasses of water and a loaf of bread every night when they go to bed, which is thought to help encourage the spirits to return to Earth to join the week of celebrations.
November 1st is All Saint’s Day, and most Austrians attend church, to celebrate the lives of the saints and martyrs of the Catholic Church, then use their time after the service to visit their family plot in the cemetery and clean up the graves. The next day it’s back to church for another mass, this time a Requiem for the souls of the recently departed in their own families. Afterward, candles are kindled in their memory. It’s definitely a more somber celebration that most American Halloween parties, but not without a certain morbid glamour.