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Not all about Halloween: 4 festivals celebrating life and death

Celebrations of life and death by different cultures across the world…

TONIGHT IS HALLOWEEN, and while you will doubtlessly be busy putting the finishing touches to your costumes, we thought we’d cast an eye back on the day’s origins – and take a look at some other similar festivals across the world.

Halloween and its origins

The roots of the annual holiday, is celebrated on the 31 October in many countries across the world, have been traced to the Celtic harvest festival Samhain and, possibly, the ancient Roman festival Parentalia – which celebrated the life of ancestors over a nine day period.

While some historians attest that Samhain was not originally connected with the dead, it appears to have developed into a celebration of life and death after the advent of Christianity, and soon became seen as the time of year when the souls of the dead return to the waking world.

Picture by: David Cheskin/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The symbols and traditions associated with the holiday also developed over time: the carving of pumpkins began in Ireland and Scotland – although turnips were originally used – as a way of remembering the souls trapped in purgatory.

One of the earliest records of trick-or-treating as a Halloween custom was made in Scotland in 1895, when it was known as “guising”. However, the practise of going door-to-door in fancy dress to beg for treats dates back as far as the Middle Ages, when the poor would dress in costumes and go to neighbours’ homes to beg for food, which they would receive in exchange for their prayers for the dead.

Day of the Dead, Mexico

The Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations take place between 31 October and 2 November, and during that time families honour their dead relatives by congregating in cemeteries and decorating tombstones. Families also build altars to the departed, which typically include the person’s favourite foods, candles, personal items, flowers (specifically marigolds) and sugar skulls – sugary treats offered to the dead.

Picture by: Alexandre Meneghini/AP/Press Association Images

Bon Festival, Japan

Also known as the Obon festival, the event marks the time of year when Japanese honour their deceased relatives, visit graves, and construct altars in their homes. The festival, which has been celebrated in Japan for over 500 years, traditionally includes the Bon-Odori dance (see below).

Hungry Ghost Festival, China

During the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar, people celebrate the return of departed souls during the Hungry Ghost Festival. Families offer prayers to their ancestor’s souls, as well as food, gifts and entertainment.

The festival is also celebrated in Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan.