Halloween Around the World


Trick-or-treating, spooky costumes, and haunted houses. We know how Halloween is celebrated in America, but how is it celebrated in the rest of the world? Halloween might feel like a quintessentially American holiday, but like many American holidays, its origins lie elsewhere: namely, Ireland and Germany, and Catholic traditions.


Samhain (or Hallowe’en as it is now known) is the most well-known of Irish festivals. Like the Mexican Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), it has become associated with the Christian holiday of All Saints’ Day. However, it can be traced back to an ancient pagan harvest celebration.

It is likely that Samhain originally denoted the end of summer. The word is believed to derive from the prefix sam-, from which we get the modern Irish word samhradh ‘summer’. Winter was the most dangerous time of the year, when food was scarcest and the old, young and sickly were vulnerable to sickness and death. Samhain was believed to be the night when the borders between the síd (the Otherworld) and the mortal world were opened and evil spirits would pass over to cause mischief. Stories of frightening apparitions abounded. The púca (a nature spirit that could be either malicious or benevolent) and the bean sí (the ‘banshee’ or fairy woman who appeared as a harbinger of death) were thought to haunt dark roads and graveyards on Samhain.

Turnip-carving was also practiced at Samhain. This involved hollowing out a turnip and placing a candle inside as a makeshift lantern. Revellers would also shape the turnip into terrifying facial expressions. This tradition was exported to America where pumpkins replaced turnips and became the most recognizable image associated with modern Halloween – the jack-o-lantern.


Another main ingredient of Halloween is St. Martin, a mainly German and Catholic children’s holiday. St Martin was a Roman soldier turned Saint and bishop who is most famous for splitting his coat on a deep winter night and giving half to a beggar. St. Martin is a deeply meaningful holiday where children build their own hand-made lanterns and go from door to door and sing St. Martin’s songs and get candy for their efforts. The original St. Martin occurs on the 11th of November, but this was mixed with Samhain from Ireland that deals with ghosts and witches and such stuff on October 31st. The dress-up elements of Karneval – celebrated in Catholic regions just before Lent, about 40 days before Easter – were added, and in the end you have the full spectrum of American Halloween.


The most Japanese were not familiar with Halloween until ten to fifteen years go, but Halloween events are quickly gaining popularity in Japan in the recent years.

Tokyo DisneyLand started its annual Halloween celebration event in 1997, and it was said to be the major force in introducing Halloween to the Japanese population.

Many Japanese instantly fell in love with Halloween because of the “cosplay” aspect of it. The Japanese had long been familiar with the practice of dressing up as a character especially from a manga and anime. Many welcomed Halloween as the day where enjoying cosplay is publicly acknowledged.

Whereas kids doing trick-or-treat is the highlight of Halloween in the U.S, the current Japanese Halloween is more about young adults enjoying wearing costumes. However, since Halloween is still relatively new in Japan, it could very much evolve into something more similar to the U.S. Halloween in the next few years.


Halloween is not that big of a deal in Korea; outside of children and expats. However, more and more people seem to enjoy this Halloween these days. “Zombie Walk Seoul” started in 2012 and it has been the most interesting event around this time of the year. The rule is very simple: dress up like a zombie and walk like a zombie. More than 500 zombies marched down the street and frightened passers-by.

Even if Koreans don’t celebrate Halloween in the traditional sense, they love horror films. If you want more Korean style zombies, be sure to watch the Korean zombie horror movie “Train To Busan.”

Spain/Latin America

The celebrations around Halloween in Latin America and Spain vary depending on the region and the level of American influence that the country receives. Halloween coincides with All Soul’s Day, a Christian holiday that is celebrated on November 2nd. In Mexico and other countries in Central America, people celebrate El Día de los Muertos or “The Day of the Dead”. This celebration starts on the eve of October 31st and lasts three days, culminating on November 2nd.   The tradition commemorates the dead and is heavily influenced by pre-Columbian indigenous customs. The celebration honors those who passed away, who are believed to visit their homes around this time of the year. People decorate their houses with altars and decorate them with flowers, candy and offerings. They bake special pastries to commemorate their family members. In spite of its theme, it is a happy celebration because they see this as an opportunity to celebrate the continuity of the after life.  Family members may also visit cemeteries and decorate them with flowers and candles. These celebrations include mariachi music, abundant food and drinking.  Outside this geographical area, younger generations may celebrate Halloween as a new American holiday.

In Puerto Rico, where there’s a heavy American influence, young people dress up in costumes and go trick or treating. In some other countries, it is starting to be viewed as a lesser type of one-day Carnival, with private costume parties the weekend closest to October 31st. With globalization, the awareness of this holiday is expanding. Regardless of its reach and practice as a “costume”, type of holiday, devoted Christians say a prayer in honor of the dead and saints around this time of the year.


Brazilians do not celebrate Halloween, except in some more affluent neighborhoods in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where the American style Trick or Treat is mimicked.

There is, nevertheless, another important feriado, holiday, on November 2 that is celebrated throughout the country—Dia de Finados, or day of the dead.

Finados, as it is also known, came to Brazil com os europeus católicos, with Catholic European, but unlike its Mexican counterpart, it is a sad type of celebration.

Usually families go to o cemitério, the cemetery, to pray for a deceased family member’s alma, soul. They also take the opportunity to clean and tidy up o túmulo, the gravesite and leave flowers arrangements, creating a pretty sight for those visiting the graveyard.

Since it’s a day for quiet prayer and reminiscence, there’s no special food or festivity associated with it.


In France, fêter (celebrating) Halloween began timidly in the late 1990’s, thanks to the promotion of large American companies like Disneyland park in Paris. This year, because of its growing popularity chez les jeunes et les adolescents (among kids and teenagers), the Ministry of National Education decided to combine La Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) holiday with Halloween. 


In larger cities, bars, clubs and other venues propose Halloween theme parties, a chance to to wear costumes and have fun. In pâtisseries, you may find a choice of friandises (f.)(little yummy things, typically sweets). At home, some people might prepare des tartes à la citrouille (‘see-troo-y(uh)) (pumpkin pies). And kids don’t miss a chance to scare or be scared playing un fantôme (a ghost), une sorcière (a witch), un squelette (a skeleton), un vampire or une momie.


The celebration of Halloween spread to Italy in the late 1990’s, finding success in particular in the large cities of the north like Milan, Torino and Bologna, which have always been more attentive to American customs. The bewitched night is a great event for teenagers and twenty-somethings in Italy, since the most popular clubs organize exclusive themed parties, which are generally as well-attended as those on New Year’s Eve. This is not hard to believe knowing the natural propensity of the Italians to far festa (“party”).

The celebration of Halloween in Italy isn’t restricted to the dance floor. Italian chefs, excellent masters of the kitchen, prepare some of the best dishes for Halloween in the world based on the ancient Celtic Samhain main ingredient: zucca (pumpkin). Risotti alla zucca (pumpkin risotto), antipasti e torte salate (appetizers and salads), paté di zucca (pumpkin pate), pane alla zucca (pumpkin bread), sfogliate e tortini a base di marmellate di zucca (tarts and cakes with a foundation of pumpkin marmalade), crostate e torte (pies and tarts) from grandma’s recipes, all reinvented for the occasion.

The following morning, the first of November, is the festival of Giorno di tutti i Santi (All Saints’ Day), when we celebrate the glory and honor of all the Saints in the most religious silence and peace.  For Italians, Halloween is therefore a real and proper Dionysian feast, on the eve of a great prayer that brings us back to a profound spiritual awareness.



In Greece, the typical practices we associate with “Halloween” happen not in October, but in February.

Απόκριες (apo-kreas=goodbye to meat) is the three week period before the Σαρακοστή (sa-ra-ko-STEE), the “Great Lent” (the Σαρακοστή lasts forty days and ends on Πάσχα (PAS-cha=Easter).

Απόκριες are during the month of February. The most important day of Απόκριες is the last Suday of this three-week period, which is the peak of of the celebrations.  This year, mark your calendars for February 26th!

Throughout this period, but especially on Sunday, February 226th, there numerous events and parties where people dress up as μασκαράδες (ma-ska-RA-dhes= masqueraders), engage in pranks, treasure hunts, concerts, masked balls, and street festivals.

The main event is the grand parade of masked troupes and floats on the noon of Sunday. There are numerous parades all over Greece but the most popular is the one of Patra. Every year Patra, has millions visitors who either participate in the parade or simply gather on the streets to watch the floats and the μασκαράδες! The carnival ends with the ceremonial burning of the effigy of King Carnival at the harbor.