Unique Halloween Celebrations and Traditions Around the World

Unique Halloween Celebrations and Traditions Around the World

Halloween is just around the corner and, for many of you, depending on where you are in the world, means celebration, observing tradition, or parties. Though October 31st is a now heavily commercialized date, Halloween stems from ancient Celtic traditions and, indeed, many places around the world have their own version of Halloween at the same time of year.

Here’s a little look at some of the variety of ways Halloween is celebrated in different places around the world. And, as Halloween is every fright fans favorite time of year, we’ve included a little look at some of the best darker-themed tours on the FREETOUR.com platform – those tours which go beyond the standard history to reveal the creepier stories and terrifying local legends!


1. Halloween in Ireland

Halloween stems from the ancient Celtic traditions of the autumn season when it was believed the barrier between the mortal realm and that of the dead was at its weakest.

Being the end of the harvest season, people would light fires to sacrificially burn crops and animal bones (this ‘bone fire’ is the origin of bonfire), as well don masks and costumes, to ward off the wandering spirits that managed to pass through the thin veil between both worlds. This is why dressing in Halloween costumes, wearing masks, and lighting bonfires are quintessential Halloween happenings in Ireland today.

It’s fitting then that we start in Ireland, an ancient Celtic land that, in relatively recent history, has a well-documented legacy of mass emigration, especially to America, since the time of the great potato famine of 1845 to 1849. People took with them their traditions and beliefs which became somewhat ingrained in the local culture in America, leading to the ‘typical’ western version of Halloween that has been disseminated far and wide through pop-culture since and been adopted by many cultures since.


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  In Ireland, trick or treating on Halloween night is commonplace, as well as dressing up in Halloween costumes, watching scary movies and having Halloween parties. Of course, the pubs go all out too, adorned in creepy décor and hosting Halloween themed festivities.    

Halloween Macnas Parade

One of the coolest Halloween events in Ireland is the annual Macnas Parade, which is celebrated in the medieval streets of Galway, with different narrative themes each year and high-spirits guaranteed. The country's biggest Halloween festival brings over 70,000 people and includes otherworldly creatures, giant elders, and hundreds of dressed-up performers. This year it will take place on Sunday, October 27th. There is also a similar parade in Dublin, which is part of the Bram Stoker Festival (on from 25th-28th October 2019).  




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Recommended free tours in Dublin:

You can get excellent insight from our tour provider, Generation Tours, to how Halloween is celebrated in Ireland and Dublin. They run the only mythology themed tour in Dublin, which includes some (frankly, disturbing) dark stories of the city’s history – including an entire section of Dublin that was genuinely known simply as ‘Hell’, demonic murderers, occultism, witchcraft and more.

You can check out the Fables & Folklore Free Tour here; it’s a must-do in Dublin at any time of year, but especially around Halloween!


2. Halloween in England

Jumping across to England now where, traditionally, Halloween had been less embraced, largely due to the proximity of the date to Guy Fawkes Day, also known as bonfire day, which takes place on November 5th to commemorate the failed gunpowder plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. The day sees organized bonfires and fireworks and, as such, used to overshadow the earlier Halloween date.


 However, in more recent times, October 31st has become ever more popular in the UK where much of the standard Halloween celebrations now occur – fancy dress, Halloween parties, and trick or treating. “Young children will dress up in various outfits and knock on front doors asking for the sweets, before returning home, sitting around the fire and telling spooky stories,” says Axel of the excellent Strawberry Tours in London.  




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If you want to experience a scarier side to London, dare to go on a guided tour or a special Halloween event during the London Month of the Dead celebrated in October, which includes visits to the city's most famous cemeteries, haunted houses, execution and torture sites. The walks are organized by writers, sociologists, historians, and storytellers that hold frightening talks about spiritual vampires, ghosts, Frankenstein phantasmagoria, erotic death art, and many more obscure topics.

Recommended free tours in London:

Strawberry Tours run two twisted themed tours in London – ideal things to do should you find yourself in the English capital this Halloween. Their free Ghost Tour of London is, according to Axel, “a spine-tingling walk through the darkest corners of one of the world's oldest cities”.

Perhaps an even more horrifying topic, their free Jack the Ripper Tour takes you back to the ‘autumn of terror’ in 1888 when the world's most infamous unidentified serial killer brutally took the lives of multiple women in the most notorious part of London. The recounting of the Whitechapel murders is no doubt terrifying, but the fifth murder, according to Axel, is particularly shocking.


3. Halloween in Mexico

To Mexico now where the celebrations at this time of year are all about embracing the souls of their dead and welcoming them back with a vibrant festive atmosphere, flamboyancy, and color!

The Day of the Dead, or El Día de Los Muertos, is not a Halloween celebration (although it does share common roots), but it has been attracting a lot of tourism-based interest at this time of the year, owing perhaps to the celebratory nature of the day and the positivity with which it is portrayed. While Halloween is just one night, the Day of the Dead it's a three-day event celebrated to honor deceased relatives, starting on October 31st. Parades of ‘dead’ actors in coffins are marched through streets, people paint the now-familiar skeleton skull on their faces, and girls often dress as a famous skeleton called La Calavera Catrina.


While there is a lot of overt theatrics about the day and a distinct lack of fear-based reverence around the inevitability of death, it is also a very special time for people to remember loved-ones passed with immaculately decorated shrines and gravesites, complete with pictures, flowers, food, and candy.

Indeed, one of the most stunning things about El Día de Los Muertos, a UNESCO recognized Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, is the incredible scenes of beautifully decorated cemeteries. It is probably one of the most unique Halloween celebrations around the world.

You can check out and easily book your place on a Day of the Dead tour in Oaxaca on FREETOUR.com.


4. Halloween in Romania

What better way to celebrate Halloween than visiting the homeland of Vlad the Impaler (better known as Dracula)?

At this time of the year, people looking for a spooky but yet authentic experience may take trips to spend Halloween night in the Romanian mountains of Transylvania. The incredible nature, the medieval atmosphere, and the turbulent history, myths and whimsy legends of this region make it one of the best Halloween destinations in Europe.

Some of the best things to do for Halloween in Transylvania are taking a tour of the intriguing Dracula Castle in Bran, near the city of Brasov, or joining a Halloween costume party at the beautiful Hunyadi (Corvin) Castle, one of the largest castles in Europe and one of the Seven Wonders of Romania.





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  However, if you want to dive into the superstitious Romanian folklore, take part in the St. Andrew's Eve celebrations -or Noaptea Strigoilor- across the country. Also called the Night of the Spirits, this Romanian version of Halloween is celebrated on the night of November 29th, when it is believed that the wolves roam the mountains and the spirits come to surface. This auspicious night, in which people gather to share their prayers to protect themselves from those creatures, is a great opportunity to learn about other facets of Romanian culture.   If you’re in Bucharest and feel like a fright, I recommend you join the Ghosts & Vampires Tour by Unbelievable Bucharest Tours. This tour deals with what Catalina, the founder and tour guide at the company, refers to as “the weird stories of Romanians: ghosts, superstitions and religious traditions in one tour….the scariest story is one of the real vampires of Bucharest, the serial killer that was sucking the blood of and killing women in the city in the 1970s. But the most interesting part is, in fact, connected to his father.     

5. Halloween in South Korea

The adoption of Halloween in South Korea has been gradual, but ever-growing. Perhaps owing to a culture which has taken more cues from Western ways than other Asian countries, the best bits of Halloween seems to have taken hold in South Korea in recent years with the Halloween costume game among young people being very on point, often taking inspiration from popular Horror movies of the US. Halloween parties and events are now very popular in Seoul, among locals and expats alike, with events like zombie runs, the Everland Halloween festival, and even entire streets being closed to traffic for Halloween parties. Everland is the largest theme park in South Korea and it hosts the festival "Everland Zombie Buster", with a series of scary attractions that provide the most terrifying and spine-chilling experiences. Among these are the Horror Village, the haunted T-Express ride and the Horror Maze (check out the video below).            

6. Halloween in China

 Like South Korea, the commercially lucrative opportunities of the Americanised version of Halloween – Halloween costume parties, horror theme events, etc. - are being adopted more and more in China’s bigger cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and the SAR of Hong Kong. Traditionally though, China celebrates an entire month commemorating their deceased ancestors called Ghost Month. The month sees several festivals, rituals, and traditions and part of this extended commemoration is the Zhongyuan Jie Festival or the Hungry Ghost Festival, sometimes called Teng Chieh.    




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It is believed that this is the month in which the gates of Hell are opened, so people want to ensure they keep the ghosts happy by offering them things like paper, money or clothes.
Quite unlike the ancient Celtic origins of Halloween that employed means of keeping wandering spirits away, during the Zhongyuan Festival in China, people attempt to assist the spirits by lighting lanterns to guide their path in our mortal world and leave food and water too to provide them sustenance.


So, while this time of year around Halloween is celebrated differently in different countries and cultures, there is a common interest with otherworldliness, the mysterious and mystical, and the spooky. Perhaps Halloween, in all its commodified glory, allows us to divulge in this side of life in a more ‘fun’ and thrilling way than we might otherwise explore themes of fear, death, ghouls, and ghosts.

Wherever you are this Halloween, we hope you have a good one. Check out the local free tours and budget tours available around you on FREETOUR.com.

Happy Halloween and happy touring!
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