American Halloween is full of ghosts, spirits, and all creepy things.
We put up spider webs, skeletons, and dress up as anything or anyone we want. We enjoy being scared by otherworldly beings, while the rest of the year we tend to eschew the spiritual realm. The thought of death, or a life after death, is terrifying. However, in most other countries of the world, spirits are celebrated and honored. Death isn’t feared or a taboo subject, and they have a time of year in which they show their respect and appreciation for the dead.
Bolivia: Dia de los Natitas
The natives to the Andes believed that life exists in a circular pattern. When your body dies, your soul continues to live in a spiritual realm. On November 8, Bolivians celebrate Dia de los Natitas, or Day of the Skulls. They gather in graveyards to commemorate their loved ones who have left the earth with food, music, and offerings. Each family also brings with them their own assortment of human skulls, often decorated or costumed. Some skulls are from deceased family members, while others are from other sources. Many have been passed down, while others have been recently retrieved from their graves. Honoring the skulls of the dead is thought to bring good fortune and protection.
China: The Ghost Festival
On the 15th day of the 7th month is the Chinese Ghost Festival, one of their different traditions to honor their ancestors. The 7th lunar month is usually either July or August in the Western calendar, and the entire month is called the Hungry Ghost Month. During this month, the gates of hell are opened and the malevolent spirits wander free. These ghosts are known to be the spirits of those whose ancestors forgot to honor them, or were not given proper funerals. Their necks are needle-thin, either because they were starved by their family or are being punished with a curse making them unable to swallow. On the day of the festival, families provide food and entertainment for all of the wandering ghosts to ward off misfortune that the ghosts might bring. At the end of the month, they re-enter hell and the gates close.
The rituals in Greece prior to lent are carried out in the Apokries festival. This is an ancient festival to honor the Greek god Dionysus, the god of wine and harvest. As you can imagine, much wine is consumed during the festivities. They honor him during this festival to welcome spring and the harvest. The first day of celebrations consist of dressing up in wild costumes and flamboyant masks in order to give themselves anonymity to celebrate without abandon. On the second day, people board a boat on wheels dressed as satyrs (half goats, half men). Satyrs are sexual creatures and symbolize fun, frivolity, and Dionysus’ sacred marriage. The third day is dedicated to the god Hermes, who is known for escorting souls to the underworld. They honored Hermes in order to let the souls of those they loved to come back to Earth for the festivities. However, they believed that along with the good souls came the bad souls from Hades, so they would surround their sacred places with red thread for protection.
Haiti: Fete Gede, the Voodoo Festival
The Haitian Day of the Dead, Fete Gede, takes place on November 1 and 2. Fete Gede is both a celebration of the spirits and a tribute to the slavery that Haitians have suffered throughout history. Voodoo is a tradition originating in West Africa over 6,000 years ago, and it was what slaves would use to cope. During the festivities, Haitians dress in traditional funeral colors of black, purple, and white, and they cover their faces in white powder. Music, dance, and alcohol are all very important, adhering to the belief that the gedes, a family of spirits, are glutinous and overindulge in alcohol, food, and sex. Those who indulge in these festivities without shame are thought to be possessed by the gedes, and will have good fortune. Although November 1 and 2 are the days of the biggest festivities, the celebrations and honoring of the spirits takes place during the entire month of November.
Obon is Japan’s annual festival to commemorate the spirits of dead ancestors. It usually takes place in August, although some parts of Japan celebrate it in July. This is thought to be the time that spirits re-inhabit the earth. ‘Oban’ is shortened from the Sanskrit word ‘Urabon’, meaning “to hang upside down” to remind those still living of the intense suffering of life. Contrary to what the name suggests, Obon is filled with joyous celebrations, including a Bon Odori dance and inviting the spirits over with paper lanterns. Graves are cleaned and adorned with flowers. On the last day of Obon, lanterns with candles inside are placed into rivers to guide the spirits home.
Nigeria: Odo Festival
In Nigeria, the dead are known as odo, and the odo are thought to never truly leave the living. Every two years, the Odo Festival is held. The arrival of the odo is met with lively festivities and rituals. The odo stay for six months, during which they interact with the living and visit the places they knew during their time on earth. During the arrival and the stay of the odo, many theatrical performances are put on in their honor, with elaborate costumes, masks, and music known as obilenu music, or “that which lies above”. The departure of the spirits is a very emotional time, for the Nigerian people know that they will not be reunited with the dead for another two years.
Romania: Dracula Day
Vampires are mythical creatures dating back to ancient texts. However, possibly the best-known vampire is Count Dracula, the blood-sucker from Transyvania, Romania. This character, created by Bram Stoker, was based on a real-life person named Vlad the Impaler. Vlad was born in Romania and made himself infamous with his love of killing. He boasted that had killed over 100,000 people by impaling them and would line his walkway with “forests” of impaled heads. Now, he is celebrated on May 26th, what is known as Dracula Day.
Wales: Nos Galan Gaeaf
The United Kingdom is known for its deeply-entrenched superstitions regarding Halloween, or All Saints Day. In Wales, they have some very specific traditions around this time of year. The end of October is known as the time when spirits freely wander the earth. Because of this, the Welsh people try to avoid any spots where these spirits may gather, such as graveyards and crossroads. They like to stay by the burning fire so as to avoid the ghost of a black, tailless cow and her headless keeper. Avoid looking into the mirror, for this is a portal for demons to travel through and invade your dreams, as is touching or smelling ivy. A common tradition is Coelcerth, where families put stones with their names on them into the fire. Whoever’s stone is missing the next morning is destined to die within the year.
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My name is Andrea and I live in Los Angeles, California. By day, I am an actor and by night I am working towards a degree in nutritional science.