We all take for granted the way Halloween is celebrated. But this holiday is honored in many different ways around the world. Learn a few fascinating facts about the beliefs and customs other peoples enjoy on our favorite day in October. Happy Halloween!
Halloween is celebrated in many different ways throughout the world. Depending on the region, beliefs and customs that dictate decorations and procession are vastly varied.
In Italy on the night of All Souls', the spirits of the dead are thought to be abroad, as in Brittany. They may mingle with living people, and not be remarked. The Miserere is heard in all the cities. As the people pass dressed in black, bells are rung on street corners to remind them to pray for the souls of the dead. In Naples the skeletons in the funeral vaults are dressed up, and the place visited on All Souls' Day. In Salerno before the people go to the all-night service at church they set out a banquet for the dead. If any food is left in the morning, evil is in store for the house.
In Malta bells are rung, prayers said, and mourning worn on All Souls' Day. Graves are decorated, and the inscriptions on tombs read and reread. For the poor is prepared an All Souls' dinner, as cakes are given to the poor in England and Wales. The custom of decorating graves with flowers and offering flowers to the dead comes from the crowning of the dead by the ancients with short-lived blooms, to signify the brevity of life.
In Spain at dark on Hallowe'en cakes and nuts are laid on graves to bribe the spirits not to disturb the vigils of the saints.
In Germany the graves of the dead are decorated with flowers and lights, on the first and second of November. To drive away ghosts from a church a key or a wand must be struck three times against a bier. An All Souls' divination in Germany is a girl's going out and asking the first young man she meets his name. Her husband's will be like it. If she walks thrice about a church and makes a wish, she will see it fulfilled.
Belgian children build shrines in front of their homes with figures of the Madonna and candles, and beg for money to buy cakes. As many cakes as one eats, so many souls he frees from Purgatory.
The races of northern Europe believed that the dead returned, and were grieved at the lamentations of their living relatives. The same belief was found in Brittany, and among the American Indians.
The Chinese fear the dead and the dragons of the air. They devote the first three weeks in April to visiting the graves of their ancestors, and laying baskets of offerings on them. The great dragon, Feng-Shin, flies scattering blessings upon the houses. His path is straight, unless he meets with some building. Then he turns aside, and the owner of the too lofty edifice misses the blessing.
At Nikko, Japan, where there are many shrines to the spirits of the dead, masques are held to entertain the ghosts who return on Midsummer Day. Every street is lined with lighted lanterns, and the spirits are sent back to the otherworld in straw boats lit with lanterns, and floated down the river. To see ghosts in Japan one must put one hundred rush-lights into a large lantern, and repeat one hundred lines of poetry, taking one light out at the end of each line; or go out into the dark with one light and blow it out. Ghosts are identified with witches. They come back especially on moonlit nights.
There is a Chinese saying that a mirror is the soul of a woman. A pretty story is told of a girl whose mother before she died gave her a mirror, saying:
"Now after I am dead, if you think longingly of me, take out the thing that you will find inside this box, and look at it. When you do so my spirit will meet yours, and you will be comforted." When she was lonely or her stepmother was harsh with her, the girl went to her room and looked earnestly into the mirror. She saw there only her own face, but it was so much like her mother's that she believed it was hers indeed, and was consoled. When the stepmother learned what it was her daughter cherished so closely, her heart softened toward the lonely girl, and her life was made easier.
By the Arabs spirits were called Djinns (or genii). They came from fire, and looked like men or beasts. They might be good or evil, beautiful or horrible, and could disappear from mortal sight at will. Nights when they were abroad, it behooved men to stay under cover.
However you decide to celebrate the holiday, Halloween is bound to be a fun time for all!