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Nothing quite breaks up the long, cold stretch between summer and Christmas like Halloween, when scare-mongering revellers dress up as zombies in memory of what’s believed to have been a Celtic festival with origins dating back around 2,000 years.
The now widespread celebration supposedly began in Ireland, when it was believed that spirits haunted the living and Druids dressed up to protect themselves.
The festivities have since spread to Latin America, Asia, North America and beyond and can now be seen in everything from Mexico’s Day of the Dead to Austria’s Pumpkin Festival, the US’s Jack O’Lanterns to Ireland’s torchlight processions. We picked out some of the biggest celebrations around the world.
Over in Mexico, 31 October marks the start of the three-day Dia de los Muertos, an indigenous celebration in honour of the dead which features parades in skeleton fancy dress, dancing, feasts and more.
Families traditionally decorate an altar in the house in memory of the deceased, attend candlelit church ceremonies and, on the final day, visit the graves of lost relatives (while feasting on a picnic). Among the most popular places for seeing the festivities is Michoacán (on the Island of Janitzio), where indigenous Purepecha people carry out rituals on the night, and Mexico City, where stalls and processions take to the streets in celebration of the life cycle.
Nobody does Halloween quite like North America, and Canada’s festivities are no less extravagant than those in the US. First born in the 1800s with the arrival of the Scottish and Irish, traditions here now include trick-or-treating, decorating houses with corn stalks and carving out Jack O’Lanterns from pumpkins (which is believed to have come from the Irish tradition of making turnips into lanterns to ward off a wanderer – who was named Jack). Typical foods include toffee apples and pumpkin pie, and there’s a special ‘Halloween beer’, made from spices and, you guessed it, pumpkin.
Halloween has also become a fairly big deal in Austria over recent years, with people leaving out bread, water and a lamp on the night – traditionally as a sign of welcoming back the dead. Catholics celebrate All Souls’ Week, or Seleenwoche, from 30 October to 8 November, and outside of that there are various events which take place every year; most notably the pumpkin festival (Kürbisfest) in Retz, which features a Halloween parade and various other festivities.
Despite being a Western festival, Halloween has made its way over to Hong Kong in the form of street parties, theme park celebrations, decorations and Halloween-inspired dishes. Lan Kwai Fong lies at the heart of it all with a festival involving face paint and themed drinks, while Lok Fu Plaza has opened a pop-up ‘Zombie Prison’ this year where visitors hunt out ‘zombies’ in the run-up to the night.
The birthplace of Halloween – then known as ‘Samhain’, meaning end of summer – retains many of its traditions today. They range from eating colcannon and barnbrack cake (sweet, fruity bread complete with a ring, coin or rag inside) to carving pumpkins and lighting bonfires (traditionally believed to bring luck in finding a husband or wife). Bobbing for apples has its origins here too, according to legend.
Londonderry is home to one of Northern Ireland’s largest celebrations with fireworks, live music, a costumed procession and more all taking place, while Dublin plays host to various events including an evening parade, Halloween walks and themed club nights. Over at Tlachtga Hill – the place where it’s all supposed to have begun – there’s an annual torchlit procession alongside a re-enactment of the Celtic Samhain fire festival, so visitors can trace All Hallow’s Eve back to its original roots.
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