Ahhh Halloween, do you love the fun and sweets and autumn nights and costumes or do you loathe the commercialisation / Americanisation of the ancient pagan date of 31st Oct - 1st November when apparently the veil between the living and the dead is at its lowest…Whatever your feelings Halloween is now a hugely popular global cultural event (and it should be noted that at the time of writing this the Google logo is in a “Halloween” font!) and we thought it might be fun to examine just how similarly or differently we celebrate Halloween around the world so let’s take a mini tour du monde to have a look!
In France there is a feeling that Halloween is very much a “new / American” thing that has seeped into the national consciousness…to some people’s annoyance!! However apparently Halloween came back to France in 1982, when the American Dream bar/restaurant in Paris began celebrating Halloween, and since then a wave of trick or treating children / teenagers can be seen on the streets of France and Halloween patisserie is also becoming a real thing. However All Saints Day on 1st November is taken very seriously as it is a public holiday and a day to visit lost loved ones at cemeteries or attend religious ceremonies and suchlike with businesses and schools all closing for the day.1
On All Saints Day, 1st November Catholic Germans honour the memory of saints and visit the graves of lost family members. From 30th October – 8th Nov some German people hide kitchen or work knives so any returning spirits won’t be hurt! Austrians celebrate Seleenwoche (All Souls’ Week) by remembering loved ones that have passed away, and leave bread, water and a lamp on a table before going to bed in a bid to ‘welcome the dead souls’ 2
Halloween in some form has been celebrated since the middle ages in the UK and Ireland, these days it definitely is ever-popular and has followed the American model of Halloween with trick or treating around houses with a Halloween pumpkin lantern or black cat décor in their house windows, a lot of fancy dress parties take place around this time as well with some pagan celebrations taking place in cemeteries. It is seen mainly as a children’s / teenager / party event rather than religious event.
Halloween in Spain has a more traditional feel than in some other countries, better known as El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead or All Souls Day), Halloween in Spain is a three-day celebration that kicks off on October 31st with Dia de las Brujas (Day of the Witches), continues with Dia de Todos los Santos (All Saints Day) on November 1st, and culminates with Dia de los Muertos on November 2nd. Far from being a public holiday, the Spanish Halloween is all about honouring the dead and celebrating the continuity of life, it is very similar to other Spanish-speaking countries, notably Mexico where honouring and baking for the dead is at the core of the celebrations.3
In homes families place food, drink and cempasúchil flowers near photographs of dead relatives to welcome them back. On the Day of the Dead (2nd November) people decorate skulls and create images of skulls and skeletons and bake traditional Day of the Dead bread (Pan de Muertos). Street parties and lively celebrations and elaborate costumes and face painting are an integral part of the celebrations.
On 31st October Halloween is much celebrated in some parts of Romania, notably in the area of Transylvania (yes that Transylvania…hello vampires…!) So given the cultural history of Vlad Tepes (Count Dracula) for Romania it is a time when special Halloween-themed tours and shows are VERY popular for tourists to visit. For Romanians themselves, some observe a more traditional celebration on 31st October, St Andrews night when garlic is still worn as a protection against ghosts / vampires.4
Here it is celebrated on the 11th November to honour St Martin, known for his kindness to a stranger offering a homeless man his last piece of bread. It is celebrated like Halloween and children go door to door except, they only wear masks, no costumes. And instead of saying trick or treat, they sing songs for sweets or tangerines and carry lanterns whilst visiting their neighbours.5
China / Hong Kong
The Chinese celebrate the "Hungry Ghost Festival" in mid-July, when it is customary to float river lanterns to remember those who have died. Halloween (31st Oct) is called wànshèngjié (万圣节), and is largely celebrated by expatriate Americans or Canadians. Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park (Halloween Bash) host annual Halloween shows.6
It’s clear that the roots of Halloween still show through in some celebrations and its way of honouring tradition, yet also having fun for many countries and people. Personally at TV5MONDE we are thinking of celebrating all of them and having a fancy dress party, dressing up as a vampire whilst trick or treating with carved pumpkins, Mexican skull face paint, carrying scary kitchen knives, and singing Dutch songs carrying a lantern whilst visiting our neighbours then the local cemeteries, we embrace all traditions and cultures here :-) !!!
Happy Halloween / Joyeuse Halloween from all at TV5MONDE!
Credits / photos
Organised by the Positive Planet Foundation and chaired by Jacques Attali, Positive Cinema Week will take place from 17th to 24th May in Cannes, with filmmaker Costa Gavras as guest of honor.