It’s that time of year again. It’s time for people to knock on your door trick or treating, carve pumpkins, and most notably, the more recent tradition of going to a party, probably dressed as a zombie, in order to drink a little too much and be a literal zombie the next morning. Halloween as we know it is a largely Western and Americanised event, but how are Halloween, and similar festivities, celebrated outside the Western world, and what factors tie all of the varying celebrations together?

The most prevalent alternative to Halloween is Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead, in Mexico. Its representation in mainstream films such as the opening of the Bond film Spectre (2015), and more recently, Disney’s Coco (2017), have made it more widely recognised, but what is actually celebrated? On 31 October, the gates of Heaven open, in order for souls to return to their families, with homemade altars of fruit, nuts, chocolate, drinks, and more specifically, Pan de Muertos (bread of the dead) awaiting the families’ returning ancestors and relatives. To coincide with this, parades and parties are thrown to celebrate the deceased, with a huge emphasis on costume and decoration, which is reminiscent, of course, of our Halloween festivities.

In a similar vein of welcoming returning souls, the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong, which is held from the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, around mid-August to mid-September, is dedicated to feeding the souls that are said to roam the Earth due to their annual restlessness around this time.

In India, the celebration of Pitru Paksha occurs, which derives from certain beliefs in Hinduism. In Hinduism, when someone dies, they are taken to purgatory to join three generations of their family, only to return to Earth to visit their alive family during Pitru Paksha. During this festival, the ritual of Shraddha, a fire ritual, must be carried out to guarantee their family’s place in the afterlife. If this ritual is not performed, then the souls that have returned from purgatory are subjected to roam Earth for all eternity and not progress to the afterlife.

The common thread here, which our Halloween celebrations miss, is the idea of paying respect to the dead and honouring them. The focus on the ancestors that have left us transcends multiple cultures and religions, which subsequently highlights the increased triviality of Halloween celebrations of the West. The West simply uses Halloween as an excuse to dress up and have fun, but just with a theme of horror and spookiness, whereas alternative cultures still maintain the fundamental reasoning for the festivities, and although elements of triviality have inserted their way into the celebrations, such as costume, they are used as a manner of respect, and triviality has not taken them over entirely.

 


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