Growing up in the United States, I was always excited to see Halloween candy appear on the shelves around the first week of September because I knew it wouldn’t be long until I had a huge bag of sweet treats. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized Halloween wasn’t a worldwide holiday. There are many countries that celebrate the tradition of All Hallow’s Eve, however.
Halloween, one of the oldest celebrations in the world, originated in Ireland and is derived from the Celtic festival known as Samhain. In modern times, Irish children celebrate Halloween similarly to their counterparts in the US— by dressing up in costumes to go trick-or-treating. Neighbors and families also host parties where guests can bob for apples and play other games. During these festivities, a traditional food called barmbrack is popular. Similar to fruitcake, this treat contains a surprise wrapped inside that supposedly predicts your future. Find a ring and you’ll soon be getting married; a coin means prosperity, and a piece of cloth will bring bad luck.
In the bigger cities, such as Lisbon, you’ll see some people celebrating Halloween like it’s done in the US. However, a more popular tradition is called Bread for God, or O Pão por Deus. On the first of November, children go door-to-door, but not to ask for treats. Instead, they ask for a piece of bread. People in the neighborhood give the kids bread, treats, or coins in honor of loved ones who’ve passed away. While the origins of this holiday are uncertain, some believe it gained wide popularity in 1755, when Lisbon suffered a severe earthquake, leaving most people homeless and begging for food.
Even though Halloween isn’t celebrated widely in Italy, if you visit the island of Sardinia on October 31, you’ll see children dressed up like ghosts and goblins. They go from house to house, knocking on doors and asking for candies and small trinkets. Unlike trick-or-treating in the US, however, these kids are begging for treats on behalf of all the souls stuck in purgatory. Additionally, many houses carve pumpkins in the style of a jack-o-lanterns, which they call “heads of the dead,” or Concas de Mortu.
The tradition of Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is well known throughout the world and is now celebrated in many countries due to migration from Latin America. This holiday shares the same roots as Halloween, but it’s more a celebration of life and a remembrance of those who’ve died than a representation of the fear of death. Families decorate altars in their homes and have picnics next to the graves of their loved ones with all their favorite foods.
By Kelli Drummer-Avendano