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Halloween across the world

Published October 30th, 2015

Halloween is not just the jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treatin’ and sexy kitty outfits of American dreams or the scene-setting openings of your favourite horror films.

Adorn aforementioned sexy minx getup abroad and your pleather tail could wind up between your legs as you swap public view for licking your paws over a glass of milk in your hotel room.

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Or not; no one needs to know you don’t dress like 'The Dude' (see below #TheBigLebowski) all of the time.

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Steeped in Celtic, Christian and Gaelic traditions, Halloween is a centuries-old festival of the dead derived of different rituals and customs throughout the world.

You may be surprised to know that many of the more American pop culture attributes of Halloween today came from these earlier events.

Here’s how some of the world’s cultures get spook-ishly jovial on Halloween …

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Samhaim, Ireland

You can thank the Celts for Halloween. Long before trick-or-treating became a thing in the United States, the festival of Samhaim (All Hallowtide) took place to celebrate summer’s end. Giant feasts for the dead were held for the departed who returned to their families on October 31. Pumpkins, scary costumes, bonfires and snap apple (like apple bobbing but the fruit is hang from a tree) stemmed from this tradition – they needed to ward of the unfriendly ghosts somehow – and continue alongside feasts and parties today.

Where to go: Derry City hosts a nine-day carnival dedicated to Halloween, with everything from haunted houses and ghost tours to parades, horror-story telling and catwalks. Adorn your best ghoul-zombie-witch-goblin outfit!

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Day of the Dead, Mexico

Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a three-day festival full of life in honor of the dead. At home, families clean graves and undertake other rituals for the return of their departed. For the outsider, Day of the Dead means walking into markets, street parties and parades where everyone is wearing elaborate skeleton costumes and there’s quirky, dead-themed novelty items right down to skull-shaped sweets a-plenty. Let’s not forget the tequila and mariachi bands. Day of the Dead is also recognised in other Latin American countries.

Where to go: Try Aguascalientes’ Festival de las Calaveras (Festival of Skulls) or Janitzio Island’s Day of Dead processions with music, folk dancing and the rest.

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Halloween, United States

Enter sexy kitty (or Warhol replica, living meme, GOT reference, etc.) costume. One of ‘Merica’s favourite holidays is Halloween. The Irish fleeing the potato famine helped to popularize Halloween in America and by the 1950s was cemented as the country’s most popular (and commercialised) holiday after Christmas. Kids opt for trick-or-treatin’ around the neigbourhood, scary pumpkin outfits and family festival fun. Later on, it’s wild costume parties and different kinds of treats (keggers?)! Expect parades, festivals and after-parties across the country. Places like Australia, Canada and France have followed suit.

Where to go: Try witch hunting town Salem for their Festival of the Dead (we hear the Witch’s Ball is delightfully spooky) or delve into the voodoo-ridden past and eccentricity of New Orleans at the city’s Vampire Ball and Music Festival.

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Guy Fawkes Night, England

For centuries, the Brits have fancied a Guy Fawkes Night celebration over Halloween, but we hear this is changing in favour of American Halloween celebrations. Typically falling on 5 November, the celebrations date back to 1605 when notorious Guy Fawkes attempted to assassinate the king by blowing up the House of Parliament. To commemorate, there’s elaborate fireworks displays, giant bonfires complete with Guy Fawkes effigies, and plenty a burly Halloween party to attend afterwards. Before Guy Fawkes, the English celebrated Halloween with All Souls’ Eve where souls were guided home at midnight with candles.

Where to go: Get to London for the Lord Mayor’s Show and Fireworks for a day of processions and fun followed by the country’s best fireworks of the year.

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Festival of Hungry Ghosts, Hong Kong

Forget one night of ghost roaming; in Hong Kong ghosts roam the mortal world for a month. Yu Lan, or the Festival of Hungry Ghosts, falls around late August and just in time to appease the weary and ravenous state of the ghosts after two weeks on earth. Locals burn paper, cans and even money for their ancestors while community events including festivals, lion dances and Chinese Opera attract millions. During ghost month, avoid angering the ghosts by not swimming, leaving clothes out to dry, getting married or peeing on trees. The festival is recognised in China, Japan, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia.

Where to go: Hit the streets of Honkers for pop-up Chinese opera and to see local rituals.

At a glance

Germany – traditionally customs like hiding knives from unfriendly ghosts took place, but today it’s more costumed adults at parties.

The Philippines – family members return home to honour the deceased.

Japan – guide departed home by hanging out red lanterns.

Australia and New Zealand –little cultural relevance, but America’s pop culture event is becoming increasingly popular.

Romania – traditionally, the dead were honoured in a local custom on October 30 but with the rise of Dracula’s popularity there’s special events like mega parties at castles in Transylvania.

Jolee Wakefield

A seasoned backpacker and travel writer, Jolee has spent the past decade wandering the globe in pursuit of good vibes, unusual conversations and unforgettable adventures like cave diving in Mexico, mountain climbing in Borneo and learning (failing at) local dances in the Pacific nation of Kiribati.