Trick or treating, carved pumpkins, and ghost stories are all part of what we know as Halloween. This modern version of an ancient Celtic festival has swept the world, but other traditions haven’t given up the ghost. Here is the scary Skyscanner guide to some of the world’s spookiest festivals.
1. Los Dias de los Muertos – Mexico
The Mexican ‘Days of the Dead Festival’, is similar to Halloween but with a twist. The festival is celebrated on November 1 and 2 each year and revolves around a request for the dead to return to the homes of their families, the children on day one and the adults on day two. Alters and graves are decorated with candles, flowers, fruit and special breads, as well as toys and sweets for the kids and strong liquor for the adults. Local markets sell folk art skeletons and sugar skulls to complete the picture, and live music is played in the graveyards. The festival has its roots in ancient indigenous culture.
Sugar skulls on sale for the Days of the Dead Festival in Mexico. Image credit: Yesica/flickr
2. Phi Ta Khon Festival – Thailand
Every year, the good folk of the town of Dan Sai, in north-eastern Thailand, celebrate the ‘Ghost Festival’. It takes place over three days on the weekend after the sixth full moon (around late June). Men and boys dress up as ghosts in patchwork clothing, masks made out of rice husks or coconut leaves, and bamboo rice steamers on their heads. Their clothing is laced with bells, and many of them wave phallus charms as they parade though the streets. It’s said to celebrate the fear of the unknown.
Phi Ta Khon masks in the province of Loei in Thailand.
3. Yu Lan – China
During the seventh month of the lunar calendar (August or September) restless spirits roam the earth, at least according to Chinese tradition. The 15th of the month is Hungry Ghosts Day, when people leave food out to appease the ghosts, and burn incense, fake money, gold paper and other offerings. There are Chinese operas and plays to entertain the spirits too. Finally, people light candles and float them on paper boats to guide the ghosts back to the underworld. The festival takes place in Singapore and Hong Kong too.
Monks and nuns prepare to celebrate Yu Lan in China. Image credit: Buddist Death Project/flickr
4. The Obon Festival – Japan
This ancient festival celebrates a Buddhist tradition centred around a disciple of Buddha who had supernatural powers. This disciple released his mother from the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts. It’s celebrated at three different times around Japan, but the main one is on August 15. It involves folk songs and dancing, candles floating in red lanterns on rivers, welcome fires outside houses, and plenty of grave cleaning.
_There’s lots of street dancing during the Obon Festival in Japan. Image credit: Guilhelm Vellut/flickr_
5. Chuseok – South Korea
For three days in September South Koreans pay respect to their dead ancestors during the festival of Chuseok. It’s actually a harvest festival with ghosts, because the Koreans, like other nationalities, believe that your ancestors keep watch over you long after they have died. The locals indulge in half-moon-shaped sticky rice cakes steamed over pine needles, and wash them down with rice wine. They clean the tombs of their family members, play folk games, and practice archery and wrestling.
Chuseok in Korea means special family meals in honour of the ancestors. Image credit: riNux/flickr
6. Bon Kan Ben – Cambodia
The night before this 15-day festival in October the gates of hell open up and ancestors from up to seven generations back can return to earth. Cambodians flood the temples and offer sticky rice to the monks to ease the suffering of their ancestors. The offerings are placed in bowls on long tables, with the final bowl reserved for abandoned souls whose entire family are dead.
People pray for their ancestors in Cambodia. Image credit: Houston Marsh/flickr
7. The Dance of the Hooded Egunguns – West Africa
The largest organised religion in coastal West Africa which takes in Benin, Togo and Ghana, is Vodun. It means ‘spirit’. For a week each June an Egunguns, or the souls of deceased ancestors, turn up to take position of the Vodun men. Once possessed, and dressed in colourful velvet and lace, these men spin through the villages giving out advice.
Dancers and drummers in Ghana. Image credit: Paul Williams/flickr
8. Halloween Ireland
Yes, Halloween. But in the place where it originated, in Celtic Europe as the Samhain festival. It originally celebrated the end of the year, a time when the crops were in and the animals were sheltered for the winter. It was also when when spirits returned home and malevolent ghosts roamed the earth. Turnips carved with faces warded them off from the doorstep, bonfires were lit, and people dressed up as frightening creatures to confuse the real ones.
Across Ireland, people bob for apples on strings, eat a concoction of boiled potato, curly kale and raw onions for dinner, followed by fruit bread with a rag, a coin, and a ring hidden inside. A bonfire will encourage dreams of who your future wife or husband will be. Tens of thousands of people turn up in various towns and cities across Ireland to join Halloween parades.
Join a Halloween parade or just have a beer or two in Ireland. Image Credit: Barnacles Budget Accommodation/flickr
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