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Matinee Blog

How do other cultures celebrate Hallowe’en?

As we prepare to dress up in a scary costume, traipse round our neighbours’ homes “trick or treating” with our kids and consume numerous sweet treats, we thought it would be interesting to find out how Hallowe’en is celebrated around the world.

Hallowe’en or Halloween as it is commonly known these days, originates from “All Hallows’ Eve”, the evening before the Christian feast of All Saints (or “All Hallows” as it is also known).  The Scottish poet Robert Burns described Hallowe’en as the night when “witches, devils, and other mischief-making beings are all abroad on their baneful midnight errands”.

Nowadays in the English speaking world, Hallowe’en is mostly celebrated in the same ways but there are still differences between the Eastern and Western hemispheres. For some critics, Hallowe’en has become too commercialised and American-ised and for this reason, countries like Australia are reluctant to celebrate the holiday at all!


Although the UK generally celebrates Hallowe’en in the same way these days, each individual country has their own customs and traditions which are still practiced by many.

According to the Oxford English dictionary, the name Hallowe’en was supposedly a derivative of a Scottish shortening of the fuller All-Hallows-Even, that is, the night before All Hallows Day.

The modern day practice of “Trick or Treating” originates from the old practice of “guising” (derived from “disguising”). Going from door to door in supernatural-themed costumes for food or coins, is a traditional Halloween custom in Scotland and Ireland and the gift of food or money was thought to ward off evil spirits. Games can also be played, such as “bobbing for apples”, demonstrated below.

Bobbing for Apples

Traditionally in Ireland, adults and children dress up in scary costumes, light bonfires, and enjoy fireworks displays.  The city of Derry hosts the largest organized Hallowe’en celebration in Ireland, in the form of a street carnival and fireworks display. In the olden days in both Scotland and Ireland, people decorated their houses with carved turnips as opposed to modern day pumpkins. Children who went out “guising” carried a carved turnip with candles inside to ward off evil spirits. Below is a picture of a traditional carved turnip from a museum in Ireland – we think you’ll agree that it’s definitely scary enough to ward off any evil spirits!


Traditional Irish Lantern

Traditional Irish Lantern made from turnip

The rest of Europe

In Europe, Hallowe’en is gradually ousting country-specific traditions. Hallowe’en customs have spread since the 1990’s, starting in France and the holiday has become increasingly popular in Belgium, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany since. Proof of this can be seen from early October in shops which are full of costumes, decorations and confectionery related to the popular Halloween themes.

USA & Canada and Latin America

According to Ruth Edna Kelley’s book on Hallowe’en , the Hallowe’en traditions celebrated in the USA today, originate from many other countries, including Scotland and Ireland, thanks to the mass migration to America in the late 1800’s – in fact until the early 19th century, Hallowe’en wasn’t even a marked event on the American holiday calendar!

Deriving from the Scottish tradition of “guising”, dressed up children and teenagers in the USA and Canada go “trick-or-treating”, ringing each doorbell and shouting “Trick or treat!” in order to get a “candy bar” or similar.

Trick or Treating in America

Kids “Trick or Treating” in America


Although Asia doesn’t traditionally celebrate Hallowe’en, the holiday is becoming more popular due to Westernisation and the large number of expats living there.

In China and Singapore, there is a tradition called “Yue Lan/Yu Lan Jie” (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) but it’s not so much a celebratory event than an opportunity to give gifts to the spirits of the dead to provide comfort and ward them off.

Yue Lan in China

Family members lighting Lanterns for dead loved ones as part of “Yue Lan” activities in China

Although Western Hallowe’en parties are becoming more mainstream in larger cities, the tradition of trick or treating is unlikely to become embedded in Chinese culture due to the fact most cities are so densely populated that residents live in high rise buildings. Likewise, in Japan, Hallowe’en is evident in Westernised locations such as Disneyland.

Traditionally, in the Philippines, they celebrated All Saints Day, as opposed to Hallowe’en. The tradition of “Pangangalulluwa”, where people would go house to house singing in exchange for money or food in order to hold Masses for the dead, is fading and  the prevalence of Western media is encouraging younger generations to partake in modern Hallowe’en traditions of decorating the house and dressing up.