Sure, the standard American trick-or-treat affair is a classic Halloween staple beloved by all children, but one of the advantages of having an au pair from a different country is that they get to bring their own Halloween traditions into your home! Did you know that Halloween, or holidays eerily similar to it, are celebrated around the world, including in South America, Asia, and Europe?
Here are some of the spookiest Halloween traditions from various corners of the world:
1. Mexico – El Día de los Muertos
If your child has seen the Pixar movie Coco (2017), they’re probably already extremely familiar with this tradition. The Mexican Day of the Dead celebration is similar to Halloween in that it involves candy and skeletons, but its origins are a bit more joyful than its American cousin. The idea behind El Día de los Muertos has less to do with scaring friends and family and more to do with celebrating those who have passed away. Mexican families leave offerings of food to the dead on alters, symbolized by calaveras, decorated sugar skulls that are believed to eat the food while the living are asleep. Marigold flowers known as cempazúchitl are also placed on these alters.
2. Guatemala – Barriletes Gigantes
Picture this: hundreds of people gathered in a cemetery gazing at a sky full of colorful kites. That’s how people in Guatemala celebrate All Saints Day. Held the day after Halloween, All Saints Day (aka All Hallows Day) is a time for Christians to celebrate the saints of the church, and more generally those who have passed away. Guatemala’s celebration is unique, however, because its kite flying dates back much earlier than Christian Europeans arrived in South America. The kites can be up to 40 feet in diameter and, along with the flowers strewn all over the ground, represent the union between the underworld and the land of the living.
3. Italy – Ognissanti
Italy’s All Saints Day celebration dates back to the 4th century. Interestingly, the festivities vary depending on the different regions in Italy. For example, in Rome, people eat a meal by the grave of a loved one who has passed away to keep them company, while in Campania, it is customary for people to walk around wearing a cardboard box shaped like a coffin in a tradition called “u tavutiello.” In Trentino-Alto Adige, the village church bells are rung to lure the dead to their relatives’ homes, where an empty table is waiting for them to feast upon.
4. Ireland and Scotland – Samhain
Some say this Gaelic celebration is the original Halloween. The holiday marks the end of harvest season and the beginning of the “darker half” of the year. On this day, the boundary between our world and the Otherworld becomes thin and the aos sí, or spirits and fairies, roam amongst us. People go door-to-door reciting verses in exchange for food, but they must remain disguised in order to hide from the aos sí. Sound familiar? Yes, this is most likely the origin of trick-or-treating.
5. China – Double Ninth Festival
As the name suggests, this holiday takes place on the ninth day of the ninth month of the Chinese calendar. Its traditions include climbing a mountain, adults drinking Chrysanthemum liquor, and wearing zhuyu (茱萸), a plant believed to have cleansing properties. Similar to Italy’s traditions, the celebrations vary based on region, with people in some areas roasting a suckling pig and offering it to their ancestors, for example.
6. England – Mischief Night
This tradition is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s the night of pranks and jokes, the “trick” part of “trick-or-treat.” In areas of England like Yorkshire, 13-year-olds are encouraged to participate in naughty behavior as a sort of coming-of-age celebration. A version of this holiday has a presence in the U.S., where the mischief is less encouraged.
7. Costa Rica – Día Nacional de la Mascarada Costarricense
This holiday is an amalgamation of pre-Columbian traditions, carnival, and depictions of giants during the time of Spanish colonization. The people of Costa Rica wear big, colorful masks made of paper mâché and march the streets. The marchers are accompanied by a cimarron, a band of musicians. Interestingly, the band does not require sheet music, as each member learns to play their instrument by ear.
While the classic American traditions of Halloween are always fun for children, it’s also important for them to learn about other cultures from around the world!
Choosing to host an au pair means welcoming traditions from around the world into your home. Sharing holidays and celebrations is just one of the ways host families and au pairs experience cultural exchange through the Au Pair in America program.