If you’re new to another country or are looking to move abroad, you might be interested to find out what kind of Halloween celebrations you can look forward to enjoying. While some countries have festivals that can last several days, others celebrate this time of year in a very different way, and some barely acknowledge the event at all. We looked at some of the popular expat destinations to see what you might expect.
If you’re living in France for Halloween, you may find your experience is a little different from what you’re used to. It’s a relatively new holiday, and the French only began celebrating in the 90s. Costume parties are probably more common than trick-or-treating, and the whole event is viewed as an American-style holiday. However, they do have their own traditional celebration around the same time. On November 1st, there’s a national holiday known as La Toussaint, or All Saints’ Day, and you’ll find that banks and businesses close their doors to allow people to celebrate in style. All Souls’ Day takes place on the 2nd November, and is a traditionally Catholic day for commemorating the dead. However, as the 1st November is a public holiday, people remember lost loved ones on the 1st too. Families visit graves and place chrysanthemum flowers around them and visit the church for special services, and enjoy a day of family bonding.
In the early 2000’s, Halloween enjoyed its heydey and sales of costumes and candles increased. However, these days Halloween is slightly more discreet, and Toussaint is the most prominent celebration. If you are planning on trick-or-treating with your little ones, be sure they ask ‘Des bonbons ou un sort?’ which translates into candies or a spell?, or ‘Bêtises ou friandises?’ which means mischief or sweets?
If you’re spending time in Mexico this Halloween, you’ll no doubt hear of Day of the Dead, also known as Día de los Muertos in Spanish. While Mexicans may be celebrating lost loved ones, it’s not a gloomy affair, in fact, it’s quite the opposite as the celebration rejoices at life in a way Halloween doesn’t. It originated thousands of years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and Nahua people and came from their belief that mourning the dead is disrespectful. Instead, they believed that death was just another phase of the journey in life’s long continuum. In this respect, their beliefs allowed the dead to remain community members, to be kept alive in memory and spirit, before fleetingly returning to earth during Día de los Muertos.
The festivities are colourful with people wearing elegant makeup and face paint, wearing fancy costumes and holding parades and parties with lots of song and dance. Those taking part place elaborate decorations on the graves and spend time there, as well as creating spectacular altars known as ofrendas in their homes which welcome the spirits.
Mexicans prepare offerings on the altars for the spirits of all the things the deceased enjoyed when they were alive, including special foods, flowers and photos. It’s thought that the spirits can consume the essence and scent of the offerings and when they’ve left, the living eats the food, sharing with family and friends.
You may have heard of the sugar skulls that are sold across Mexico; their appearance is iconic, painted on the faces of many. The skull is a very positive symbol in the Latin American culture at this time of year, and the design is known as calaveras or calacas. While many cultures feature masks as a huge part of their history, these calaveras masks are a way of allowing the wearer to embrace their darker side where they can overcome their fear of death, create chaos and mischief, and act recklessly in ways that might be forbidden at other times of the year.
The event is so renowned, that in 2008 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognised the historical and cultural importance of the event and added it to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In Thailand, you might find it more challenging to uncover Halloween celebrations as spirits are a big part of Thai culture, and some believe that to celebrate Halloween would anger them. In the Thai culture, ghosts are known as ‘Phi’, and they come out at night time, but you’ll find they’re just a regular part of everyday life. For instance, the Thai people actively look for ways that they can please their guardians in the hope that the spirits will bring them good fortune.
It’s not uncommon to find miniature houses next to homes, offices, and hotels, known as ‘spirit houses’. They’re seen as an altar where people can place gifts for spirits. So, if you do stumble across bottles of drinks or bowls of food by these, don’t move them. It’s said that catastrophic accidents and bad fortune will curse anyone who doesn’t respect the spirits – so beware!
However, some places may have some Halloween nightlife, such as Bangkok. Some of Bangkok’s most prestigious hotels have Halloween theme nights, and so you may be able to enjoy a spooky evening of luxury. If you’ve got little ones at a bilingual or international school in Bangkok, it’s likely there will be some organised celebration like a concert, fancy dress party, and crafting in classes the week before. The shopping malls in Bangkok might also have costume competitions, and if you’re looking for a fancy dress outfit, some of the big department stores are likely to have them.
If you’re big on Halloween, then you’ll love American celebrations. Big and bold, kids and adults alike dress as creatures, pumpkins are carved, and doorways and gardens are decorated. However, Halloween hasn’t always been a light-hearted occasion. It has been reported that in the 19th and 20th centuries Halloween was more of a trick than a treat. Police were out to ensure damage was kept to a minimum as groups of mischief makers roamed the streets, vandalising properties and playing tricks.
Halloween first came to America in the 1800s when Irish and Scottish immigrants brought it to North America. It has been suggested that 85-95% of US children spend time going from door to door trick-or-treating or take part in other festivities. Greetings cards are also sent and US citizens go all out when it comes to decoration, with US retail sales for Halloween coming in second only to Christmas. Halloween retail spending in 2017 is forecast to be at around $9.1 billion, with approximately 179 million celebrating, a new record on both counts. The celebration has become popular as it’s less costly than Christmas and Thanksgiving and still lots of fun, so you’re likely to find lots of exciting things to do when you’re there.
Cyprus may not celebrate Halloween on such a massive scale as the States, but there are celebrations to be found. Restaurants and bars have Halloween celebrations, but it’s not a hugely recognised event so you may have to do some research in your area to uncover the festivities. However, Cyprus isn’t without its celebrations, and some festivals and carnivals can last for over a week at specific points throughout the year. The Limassol Carnival Festival is very popular and takes place 12 days before Lent.
The Spanish also celebrate Day of the Dead or All Souls’ Day like Mexico, but Spain has taken the tradition and made it their own. Furthermore, each region is totally different, so your celebration in Barcelona will be completely different to one in Madrid. Galicia tends to have the most elaborate celebrations because of how much they embrace Celtic traditions. The area is famous for its folklore and ghost legends, and the 31st October is known as Noite dos Calacús, or Night of the Pumpkins. Bonfires, rituals, trick-or-treating, costume parties, and pumpkin carving all take place and strong alcoholic drinks are also served. Try a quemada, a strong drink with aguardiente, whole coffee beans, sugar, lemon rinds, and orange peels. These drinks are traditionally prepared within a pumpkin and offered after a spell has been recited.
Meanwhile in Barcelona, there are some extra festivities to get involved with. While the bars and nightclubs have glamorous parties, there’s also the city’s Catalonian tradition of La Castanyada. This takes place on November 1st and includes music concerts, stalls with seasonal delights, and other events. Barcelona’s cemeteries are impressive, and you can join others there for night tours and classical music concerts. Madrid also puts on quite a show with events and activities for families and elaborate theme parties. There’s even a Halloween pub crawl, and HallowWan, an electronic music festival. Warner Park is another place to add to your list on Halloween as there are many spectacles there.
If you’re lucky enough to be near San Sebastian for Halloween, you’ll find there’s a lot going on as the annual Horror and Fantasy Film Festival takes place too. The city’s beautiful streets attract lots of theatre performances, concerts, exhibitions, and cinema showings. Meanwhile in Cadiz, you’ll find a different kind of celebration falls on Halloween, in the form as Fiesta de Tosantos. While not a traditional Halloween festival, it includes lots of comedy, street performances, and impressively decorated market stalls that aim to draw attention to the latest political, financial, or social scandals.
Halloween in Europe has become more popular in recent years and Germany has become more involved with the celebration in the last decade. Trick-or-treating known as Süßes oder saures isn’t widely entertained, with only some regions and neighbourhoods taking part. However, there are some parties to get involved in and some of the department stores sell costumes for dressing up.