“I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.” – Lillian Smith
There were going to be no carved pumpkins, no candy corns and definitely no costumes. Why?
Because I was in Chile for October 31 and while I might be used to Halloween traditions like trick or treating, South America had a different way of greeting me during my trip around the world: Days of the Dead.
Perhaps holidays are not something you consider when traveling, but it’s amazing how sentimental I could get while on the road. Never one for Halloween (yeah, ok as a kid when candy was the game!), when I arrived in Chile I started pondering how I would spend it.
Well, the first thing to learn is that not everyone celebrates Halloween as Bermudians, American and Canadians traditionally know it. Originating from the ancient Celtic festival of the dead, Samhain, the tradition was/is celebrated as the time when strict boundaries between the worlds of the living and dead became thin. Ghosts of the dead could, therefore return to earth.
When the Romans conquered much of the Celts land in France and England, the Roman day of the dead at the end of October became incorporated. With the spread of Christianity, there was an attempt to subsume this into All Saints Day on November 1 and the festival the night before was Alls-Hallows. Anyone see where this is going?
Well, for the country where these traditions all started, Ireland, parties, bonfires and fireworks spread through the country on October 31; while, Dublin hosts its annual Halloween Festival and parade.
The UK? Well Halloween has taken to the mainstream throughout the UK too. Yep children are asking for candy and adults get lost in outfits and parties. But what is definitely a highlight is the London Zombie Walk where hundreds moan and groan through the capital while visiting twelve pubs.
Head North to the Scandinavian countries of Norway and Sweden and you will find that Halloween is relatively new holiday and there will be a few parties and themed events around the countries.
What they do, do in Norway that is similar to our Bermudian Halloween is run around the neighbourhood between Christmas and New Years to ask for sweets. It’s called Julebukk and it hails back to the Viking era. No dressing-up is really required….well beyond the layers of warm clothes required! I can attest to this having taken part when I visited family friends when I was 13-years-old.
Moving further East to Russia and the rise of Halloween is not welcomed by all. In 2008, in fact, lawmakers here sent a bill to their lower house to consider banning not just Halloween, but also Valentine’s Day. Why? They are worried about protecting their “conservative ways”. So in place of Valentine’s Day, Russians would be able to celebrate the Day of the Family, Love and Fidelity. No word on what Halloween would be called.
While Russia might be turning away from Halloween, other countries have never celebrated Halloween, but have ceremonies that draw from the idea that spirits of their ancestors abound. The Malagasy people of Madagascar have one of the most unique ways to honour their dead. Though Halloween (as we might know it) is little celebrated on this East Coast of African island, they do honour their dead by ‘turning the bones’. This ritual, ancient it is, requires the opening of the tombs of the dead dressing the bones in fresh clothes and passing them around to dance with friends and relatives.
Um….I think I’ll head to Cambodia now, which is my favourite South East Asia country. Here, the whole concept of Halloween does not really exist! Instead the country focuses on the lunar calendar and the tenth month which usually falls in September. During this time the Cambodian Buddhists celebrate the Pak Ben, 14 days during which they wake every morning before dawn to prepare offerings of food and other gifts to monks living in the local pagoda and to their ancestors.
On day 15, Cambodians visit the Pagoda with sweet sticky rice (the best food in the world) and bean treats wrapped in banana leaves and other special foods to mark the P’chum Ben or festival of the dead. P’chum Ben also marks the close of Pak ben.
Do you see how it all comes around? Sweet rice or candy corn? Ok it’s a stretch, but this is why I love traveling: different countries have draw on the same ideas, but it translates for cultural understanding.
Let’s stay in Asia and head to Japan! If we go now, however, we would have completely missed their equivalent to Halloween, the Obon Festival. That’s because Japan does not celebrate Halloween, but they do have this mid-August Festival to honour the deceased and often ends with candle lit paper lanterns floating down a river which symbolize the departure of their ancestors.
Heading further East (from Japan of course) to Mexico and you’re also celebrating the Day of the Dead on November 1 and 2nd. Well, that is now. When it was celebrated during the Aztec years, the festival would last two months! With the introduction of Catholicism, however, the celebrations were whittled down to two days! During these days, it is believed here that lost ones return to the earth to celebrate with their families and friends. Visits to grave sites ensue where offerings of food, photographs and drinks are offered to the dead.
Moving to the South of this world and we hit Peru, which celebrates more than 3000 festivals a year and also finds time to recognize their Day of the Dead on November 1 and All Saints Day on November 2. These are days for Peruvians to honour their dead with Mass, bringing flowers to the cemetery and sharing food with the dead. It’s a tradition that stems back pre-Hispanic years!
And finally what did I do in Chile? Well let’s just say I looked like one of the scary masks in the Phoenix as I tried to hike for five days through the Torres del Paines National Park without a shower. However, with the natural beauty of glaciers, bright blue lakes and avalanches, I did not miss Halloween one bit.
Which brings me to one last point: yes, our holidays are fun, but use these holidays with days-off from work (yes, even Cup Match) as a chance to see what other places do. You’d be surprised how little you miss home as you become inspired by a new culture. Ok, enough for this week, ciao ciao!
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