In the United States, Halloween is a time of excitement, of decorations, candy, and costume parties, a day grown apart from its somber origins. Around the world, many celebrations much older than Halloween take place around this time of year. Most of them have something in common- honoring and remembering those who have passed on but are celebrated in very different ways.
Hong Kong holds the Yue Lan festival, during which spirits are believed to inhabit the physical world for a full day. People light fires and burn money and pictures of food and other gifts to comfort the wandering ghosts, and place gifts at the gravesites of family members.
In Mexico and Latin America, Dia de Los Muertos begins October 31st and ends November 2nd, and during this time both children and the dead are celebrated in honor of the cycle of life. People gather at home and in public to eat, drink, dance, and remember their loved ones. Treats like candy and pastries, often shaped like skulls, are given out. In Mexico, they even have a special bread to eat during this festivities “ pan de muerto”.
My sister in Mexico creates an altar at her house each year to commemorate loved ones who’ve passed, in particular she remembers and celebrates my dad’s life by displaying all the things he liked: the cologne he loved, the whiskey he enjoyed, yellow themed decorations (his favorite color) and tools of his favorite hobby.
Below are photos of my sister’s altar this year.
Some American Halloween traditions have trickled down to other cultures. In Germany for instance, the “trick or treat” tradition has been in practice since the mid-nineties. Rather than saying “Trick or treat”, kids will say “Süßes oder Saures” (“sweet or sour”- short for “give me something sweet or things will turn sour”). You’d see carved pumpkins, haunted houses with skeletons in front yards, similar to the U.S.
Here are a few images of what Halloween in a neighborhood in Germany looks like.
Some Germans are, however, critical of the new Halloween tradition, since October 31 is the “Day of Reformation” – the day to remember Martin Luther when he nailed the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. This year commemorates the 500th year, and because of it, Germany has proclaimed October 31, 2017, an official holiday – but only for this year. All stores will be closed on this date, and families will spend time together.
Though primarily viewed as a Western tradition, South Africans are taking costumes and mask-making (a craft going back centuries) to new lengths, with fancy dress parties becoming more popular in recent years, as well as theme nights at clubs and restaurants.
Cambodian Buddhists do things a little differently- for fourteen days in September, a period known as Pak Ben, they rise early to prepare foods like sweet sticky rice and red bean curd. On the fifteenth day, P’chum Ben, people dress in their finest clothes and gather at the local pagoda to offer the treats to the monks and their ancestors, sharing prayers, songs, and memories.
This year, take time to take it all in- the music, the food, the merrymaking, but most of all, the memories of those we have loved, the people who enriched our lives and made us who we are. No matter what shape our celebrations take at the time of the last harvest, we are all bound by a spirit of togetherness and appreciation of unique souls.
Each culture has its own values and traditions when it comes to celebrations including Halloween. When wishing others who are outside of your culture a happy Halloween, it is important to understand each culture’s practices and preferences. Your message would need to be personalized to fit the culture’s dialect, acceptable visuals, references, and expressions, all of which are possible through localization and translation services. JR Language Translation Services wishes all of our clients and professional translators a safe and wonderful Halloween to those who will be celebrating it.