In America, Halloween is truly an all-ages celebration. For kids, the day means trick-or-treating, costume parades, and an excuse to indulge in candy. For adults, the day/night entails house parties and bar crawls, costume contests, and an excuse to indulge in candy (among other things)! Throw in a haunted house or a Jack-O-Lantern carving party and Halloween has become a holiday with reliable traditions. Itching to try something new? Consider celebrating Halloween abroad this year! The following destinations have their own distinct versions of America’s spookiest celebration.
Perhaps the most famous Halloween celebration outside the U.S. occurs in Mexico, where November 1 is known as the Dia de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Many countries throughout Latin America celebrate the day, but Mexico is where the tradition of honoring the dead with lively festivals originated. With roots in both indigenous Aztec rituals as well as the Catholicism brought to the region by the Spanish, the day celebrates the lives of those who have left us with food, drink, parties and activities that the deceased enjoyed when alive. Celebrators of the Dia de Los Muertos reason that the deceased would prefer this to the more expected mourning and sadness accompanying loss. Skeletons (calaveras) and skulls (calacas) are a recurring motif, appearing in many forms ranging from sweets to masks and dolls. These are not the somber black and white skulls accompanying American Halloween celebrations: The calacas and calaveras are colorful and are shown dressed in their best clothing and enjoying life. Visitors staying in Mexico City should check out the affordable and family-friendly Hotel Sybharis or the luxurious and modern Hilton Mexico City Reforma.
Many historians suggest the origins of Halloween took root in Ireland, namely in the ancient Irish festival of the dead, known as Samhain (pronounced “sow-en”). Celtic lore divides the year into halves, associated with dark and light, and Samhain marks the beginning of the dark half at sunset on November 1st. (The light half begins at sunset on May 1st, the festival of Bealtaine.) Ancient traditions included communal feasts that included the dearly departed as guests; windows and doors were left unlatched, and the food set aside for them had to be untouched by mortals, as it would condemn that person to a hungry spirit in the afterlife. Nowadays, bonfires are lit in rural areas across Ireland, and children dress in costumes. County Meath hosts a yearly Samhain festival and is conveniently 40 minutes north of Dublin. Travelers should check out the budget-friendly Croke Park Hotel or the luxurious Merrion Hotel, which boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant.
3. The United Kingdom
Our neighbors across the pond have their own Halloween-like ritual, but it occurs a few days later, on November 5. Though Guy Fawkes Day shares some traditions with the American Halloween and Irish Samhain, its origins are entirely unique. The day and night’s festivities are designed to commemorate the notorious Englishman Guy Fawkes, a Catholic who was executed on November 5, 1606 after being convicted of attempting to blow up Parliament and oust the Protestant King James from power. The original Guy Fawkes Day occurred moments after his execution, with celebratory “bone fires” set up to burn effigies and “bones” of the Catholic pope. Two centuries later, the effigies burned became those of Fawkes. Children in some parts of the country walked the streets carrying effigies and asking “for a penny for the guy” and imploring everyone to “remember, remember the Fifth of November.” Nowadays, thanks to graphic novels like V for Vendetta and its accompanying film, Fawkes has transformed from traitor into revolutionary, with masks of his face being worn at protests such as Occupy Wall Street. London is well worth visiting to experience the bonfires and celebrations, and travelers should consider the quaint Colonnade Hotel, a refurbished Victorian townhouse in central London, or the glamorous Strand Palace, located in the Covent Garden neighborhood.
4. The Philippines
Those wishing to journey to a more tropical location should check out All Saints and All Souls Day in the Philippines on November 1st. Filipino traditions include visiting the tombs of deceased family members in order to clean and repair them, and offering prayers, flowers, and candles. Many also hold reunions at the graves themselves, where they play games and music, sing karaoke, and feast. The day is meant to remember deceased loved ones, reflect on their influence, and continue to seek guidance from them. First-time visitors to the island should try staying in Manila, which boasts numerous five star yet affordable lodgings such as the Manila Hotel and the New World Manila Bay Hotel.