Known for its haunted history, vampires, Voodoo and unique cemeteries, New Orleans may be one of the creepiest cities around. Of course, this is no shade to the best city in the world. Outside of the great food and music, the Crescent City wears its creepiness with a welcoming smile. Seriously, there’s a reason people call it “The Most Haunted City in America.”
Halloween is one of the biggest celebrations in the Big Easy, second only to Mardi Gras. Blame it on the love of wearing costumes and the abundance of spirits (both kinds). New Orleans maintains a spot on several top-ten U.S. city lists for celebrating the haunted holiday by indulging in seasonal parades, elaborate haunted houses, major festivals and strolls through the French Quarter. Still, we should not forget that other cities, countries and cultures have their own unique ways of celebrating Halloween.
Europe is said to be the birthplace of Halloween, formerly known as All Hallows' Eve the precursor to All Saints' Day. With origins that date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, Halloween was less of a family-friendly holiday and more of a gothic celebration of death, harvest and the end of summer.
Many of the Celtic traditions of costumes and offerings carried over to what many Americans know as the “Trick-or-Treat” activities of today’s Halloween. While much of Europe doesn’t celebrate Halloween with the same mainstream fanfare as its North American counterparts, it is still one of the most fascinating places to visit on October 31. Its rich and long history of tumultuous atrocities, century-old castles, and terrifying legends of vampires (Bram Stoker's Dracula in particular) creates a frightfully fun seasonal atmosphere.
Several European cultures partake in Halloween festivities—London, Barcelona and the city of Ostend in Belgium, to name a few. Elaborately decorated streets, haunted houses and costumed patrons take over the streets. Let’s not forget the Celtic-rooted cultures of Dublin, Ireland, and Scotland, where Halloween remains as big a celebration today as it was more than 2000 years ago.
South & Central America
October 31 isn’t the only time of year to host a celebration of souls. For many residents of Mexico, the celebration of the souls begins on October 31 at midnight and continues through the 1st and 2nd of November. Coinciding with the the Roman Catholic All Saints' Day, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) was originally an event held during the summer months. It follows the ancient tradition of the indigenous people who practiced the belief of honoring their deceased loved ones.
While many Central and South American countries do not celebrate Halloween, the ones that participate in the holiday tend to celebrate it along the same traditions as in North America. Places like Chile, Colombia, and Brazil all have large Halloween celebrations. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Medellin, Colombia, costumes and partying are abundant. While they celebrate Halloween very similarly to the U.S., Chile and a few other locations extend their celebrations beyong mere trick-or-treating to include cultural, culinary and other large festival entertainment options such as beer festivals, film screenings and art exhibits.
Many African countries celebrate Halloween much the same as we do in the United States—however, there are quite a few that hold on to their own ancient traditions. There are also some countries that ban the holiday’s festivities altogether.
In 2013, the citizens of Rwanda were banned from hosting Halloween parties, due to religious differences. The ban caused a huge uproar, as many of the citizens enjoyed celebrating the holiday. Additionally, Halloween celebrations in Africa date back much further than the introduction of Christianity to the continent.
In South Africa, the tradition of Halloween is not particularly a candy-themed holiday as it is in the West. The art of trick-or-treating is slowly gaining momentum in the different communities, and frights and sights familiar to us are just now slowly beginning to grow in popularity.
Many Asian cultures participate in Halloween. In fact, major cities like Hong Kong tend to host bigger celebrations than most of the Western world.
It is not unusual to see a plethora of decorations, ghostly parties, and costumes roaming the streets of Hong Kong on the eve of All Saints' Day. Hong Kong is easily considered the Halloween capital of Asia, breaking down into two separate celebrations. There is the more American version of Halloween that is just as commercialized as in the U.S., with parties hosted all around town and in major public attractions like Disneyland.
The traditional festival of “Yue Lan” (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) is another way to celebrate the holiday. Its emphasis is less on celebration, and presents an opportunity to give gifts to the dead, offering comfort to the deceased and warding off evil spirits.