Halloween traditions around the world – past and present

Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, celebrated in many cultures on 31 October, is traditionally a festival of remembrance for the dead. Its roots are said to stem from the Celtic festival of Samhain, Old Irish for ‘summer’s end’, which marked the end of the fruitful summer harvest and the onset of the dark winter period to come.

Read on for the Holiday Lettings pick of past and present forms of celebration around the world for this rather special festival.


On Halloween, superstitious farmers used to anoint and bless their livestock to protect them from malevolent spirits. The traditional bake for the occasion was barnbrack fruit cake with treats hidden inside; if you found a ring, it was predicted that you would soon be married. Barnbrack still features on some contemporary Halloween menus, as does colcannon. This cabbage and potato dish (also often laced with treats) is a nod to the vegetarian roots of the festival.

Way back when, revellers in Ireland would congregate around the bonfire wearing costumes fashioned from animal skins and heads – although these days you’re more likely to run into zombies and witches in polyester garb bobbing for apples at the local Halloween party.

Halloween | Ireland

Photo credit: James.lebinski (Public domain) Wikimedia Commons


In more traditional times, British children would customise beetroots or turnips and go door to door singing for money. One former custom was to throw various items into a bonfire to predict the future – for example, if a couple threw a nut into the fire and it exploded, it was taken as a sign of a stormy marriage ahead.

Nowadays Brits have more or less taken up the contemporary style of celebrating Halloween, with costume parties, pumpkin carving and trick or treating for children, although it’s much more rigorously celebrated by their American cousins.

Halloween | Britan

Photo credit: Amelia Extra (license) Flickr.com


Historically, the Belgians have used All Hallows’ Eve as an occasion to honour the spirits of departed loved ones by lighting candles in their homes. Many are still superstitious about black cats crossing their paths, coming into their houses or boarding ships over the Halloween period.

For the most part, today the festivities tend to take on a more commercial slant, with shop windows dressed up with black and orange Halloween paraphernalia, and locals sporting vampire and witch costumes.

Halloween | Belgium

Photo credit: Anthony22 (license) Wikimedia Commons

Spain, Mexico and Latin America

Los Dias de los Muertos (the days of the dead) last from 31 October to 2 November and serve as a celebration both of the deceased and of the new generation, symbolising the renewal of the life cycle. These locations favour the more traditional customs, constructing shrines at home, littered with offerings to returning spirits.

Some folk still use the last day of the festival as a time to tend the graves of their loved ones. This is generally a jolly occasion of both remembrance and celebration, marked with plenty of traditional food and drink. Some towns and villages continue to hold community celebrations including special church services and parades – although modern, Americanised parties also now play their part.

Halloween | Latin America

Photo credit: Eneas De Troya (license) Flickr.com


Participants in Teng Chieh, the Chinese version of Halloween, generally stay true to their ancient rituals, placing offerings of food and drink before images of deceased family members and lighting lanterns to mark the paths of spirits roaming earth on Halloween night. During Buddhist ceremonies paper boats are fashioned and burned to free trapped spirits and help them on their way to their final resting place.

Halloween | China

Photo credit: Thetruthaboutfgs (Public domain) Wikimedia Commons


Halloween traditions from around the world | The Working Mom's Travels

Related Posts

7 Responses to Halloween traditions around the world – past and present

  1. Pola (Jetting Around) October 30, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    While Halloween in growing in popularity in Poland, it was pretty much non-existent when I was growing up there. Instead, we celebrated All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2) – both beautiful days of remembrance and lighting up candles at cemeteries. There’s no view quite like a Polish cemetery at night on those two days… And I was not afraid to be there at midnight, many people were out… I still love the tradition, but have embraced Halloween too. I like that it’s a lighter take on our mortality.
    Pola (Jetting Around) recently posted…Book giveaway: Tales From the Cross [Ends 10/30/2014]My Profile

  2. Carmen (CarmensTravelTips) October 31, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    Great article of all the Halloween traditions around the world. I’m currently in Israel and they don’t celebrate Halloween. I’m going to miss the kids ringing the door bell and seeing the costumes this year. Thanks for sharing.
    Carmen (CarmensTravelTips) recently posted…What is TBEX?My Profile

  3. Sarah Ebner October 31, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    I always thought this was just an American thing – which has definitely made it here in recent years. In fact, I’m just waiting for my doorbell to ring…..Happy Halloween!!

  4. Kim October 31, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    I know my friend is getting excited for Halloween tonight since she lives in New Orleans. They have something called the Krewe of Boo going on there tonight.

  5. Amy November 3, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    So interesting! I had no idea they celebrated Halloween in China. I always imagined it was more of a western holiday. Thanks for the holiday info!
    Amy recently posted…Monday moment of Zen: Panama CityMy Profile

  6. Jessica @ The Dining Traveler November 3, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    Interesting post, wonder what kids in the UK think of the past tradition! I lived in Belgium for six years and noticed how every year it became more popular among the locals. When I arrived in 2006 there were barely any festivities to plenty of parties now (Still get a lot of promo mail from Brussels).
    Jessica @ The Dining Traveler recently posted…Corning Museum of Glass: Learning to Make GlassMy Profile

  7. Jolanta | Casual Traveler October 26, 2015 at 7:19 pm #

    I love folklore so I read this post with great interest. As Pola said, in Poland All Hallows Eve hasn’t really been celebrated in modern times, but in the past (two hundred years ago) people did all sorts of superstitious things that evening. And All Saints Day is a holiday in Poland, so that people can visit the graves of their loved ones. I think you’d like seeing Polish cemeteries on November 1, though the weather can be hit or miss. Sometimes it’s very cold.
    Jolanta | Casual Traveler recently posted…In the Footsteps of Royalty: Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, AustriaMy Profile

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge