Halloween or Hallowe’en is a Scottish term derived from “All Hallows’ Eve”, the eve of All Saints Day which is observed on November 1. Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition. It is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31.Typical festive Halloween activities include trick-or-treating, attending costume parties, decorating, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted attractions, playing pranks, and  telling scary stories. Halloween customs have become increasingly popular in France, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria since the early 1990s. In a number of countries around the world, as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, people continue to usher in the winter season with gatherings, costumes and sweet treats.

In Brazil, the day after the All Saints Day is a national holiday, called “Dia de Finados” (Day of the Dead People). The Day of the Dead celebrations might seem to be similar to Halloween. In both celebrations people dress up in costumes, there are a lot of skeletons everywhere, and there are special sweet treats and candies given out. But there are some big differences between the holidays. The Day of the Dead holiday is about celebrating the deceased, unlike Halloween which promotes being afraid of the departed.

In China people celebrate Yu Lan, where it is customary to pay homage to deceased ancestors, who are believed to visit the living on Ghost Day, the 15th day of the seventh month.

In India and Nepal, Kali Puja is celebrated; and honors the Goddess Kali for her victory over the demon Raktabija, who represents evil. The puja ceremony is held at night during the darkness of the new moon. People believe this is the night when evil forces rise up. In Nepal children go around their community dancing and singing traditional songs, collecting food, sweets and money and blessing the households.

In Japan, Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. This Buddhist-Confucian custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves, and when the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household.

In Ireland, the day is still celebrated much as it is in the USA. In rural areas, bonfires are lit as they were in the days of the Celts.  All over the country, children get dressed up in costumes and spend the evening “trick-or-treating” in their neighborhoods. Carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns is a popular Halloween tradition that originated hundreds of years ago in Ireland. Originally jack-o’-lanterns were made out of turnips or potatoes; it wasn’t until Irish immigrants arrived in America and discovered the pumpkin that a new Halloween ritual was born.

Part of the history of Halloween is Halloween costumes. The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of “souling,” when poor people would go door to door receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day.

Happy Halloween!

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