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In the United States, we celebrate October 31st as Halloween with costumes and trick-or-treating. All over the world, different countries have different historical traditions associated with the end of October and early November. Many of them involve cultural festivals that celebrate the afterlife. What are some of the different traditions we find around the world, and how do different countries celebrate this week?
In Mexico, Spain, and Latin America, Dia de los Muertos is the cultural celebration that honors the dead. Each year on November 1st and 2nd, people dress up in costumes and build altars (ofrendas) to present a variety of gifts to the dead. Food, sugar skulls, and even tequila are traditionally left out to both feed and celebrate the memory of people’s deceased loved ones.
England has Guy Fawkes Day on November 5th. Guy Fawkes was a Catholic who was rallying to remove the Protestant King James from power. He was executed on November 5, 1606 after he tried to destroy England’s parliament building. During the evening of November 5th, bonfires are lit across England, there are fireworks, and effigies are burned. Prior to the Protestant Reformation, the English celebrated All Saints’ Day on November 1st of each year.
China’s annual celebration is a month-long occurrence, starting in August and ending in September. Known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, observance begins on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. For the entire month, there are parades, operatic performances, and offerings of food and incense dedicated to the dead.
In Haiti, a celebration takes place known as Fed Gede, or the “Festival of Ancestors”, a Voodoo holiday recognized in Haiti and other areas of the world that practice Voodoo. During Fed Gede, people light candles in honor of deceased loved ones and visiting their loved ones’ burial sites.
In Italy and other Catholic areas of Europe, All Souls’ Day is the traditional celebration that takes place around Halloween time. All Souls’ Day is a religious holiday for Italians, and the day is dedicated to honoring deceased loved ones. In Sardinia, people carve pumpkins, known as “heads of the dead,” to further honor their ancestors.