Halloween around the world

Aoibhin Bryant

Halloween has become a holiday celebrated across most of the world despite having its humble beginnings on our own little island. Originally a pagan festival believed to be when spirits would make contact with the physical world, people would don masks to scare these pesky spirits off and thus, a tradition was born. When Irish civilians emigrated to the United States of America for a variety of reasons, they kept up these traditions that would lead to an en masse participation in our spooky festival.

We’ve all seen the films, we know that Halloween is a big deal in America and is possibly more celebrated over there than it is here. Intertwined with England’s Guy Fawkes night, at first Halloween was merely a day for young whippersnappers to play pranks and get up to general mischief. However, in the 1920s, this became a widespread problem with many using the holiday as an excuse to participate in criminal activity, including the KKK. The American Boy Scouts began the practice of trick or treating in order to stop children from going down the path of delinquency. This proved popular and by the 1930s, rates of vandalism had steadily decreased.

Nowadays, it’s a huge event with many counting down the days until they can dress up as their favourite superhero or relevant political figure. Ryan Witherspoon, a student in Whitman Student, Washington but originally from Southern California, adores Halloween.

“It’s a pretty big deal over here, there’s always so many parties you can go to and it’s always a great night whether you’re dancing until dawn or chilling at home watching scary movie marathons, it’s lit.”

It is estimated that America spends around $6 billion on Halloween each year, marking it as the second largest commercial holiday right after Christmas. In the States, it’s almost mandatory to decorate your  house and leave pumpkins outside your door. It’s seen as a cardinal sin to not get in costume and to refuse to partake in any Halloween customs.  Despite the holiday originating here, the American attitude has made its way across the Atlantic and there is no doubt that we celebrate Halloween in a slightly different manner than our ancestors would have.

However, not all countries have immersed themselves in the Halloween spirit quite like the United States. The 31st of November in Lithuania is unmarked on most people’s calendars and the day goes by without much to record. Although this does not mean that the Lithuanian’s year goes by without any sort of spooktacular holiday.

“We do have a Halloween-esque celebration in early February” says DCU student Gabija Gataveckaite who now resides in Roscommon. “This is called Užgavėnės, and is the festival of banishing the winter away”.

Lithuanian winters are very cold, with lots of snow and extremely low temperatures. Užgavėnės sees the people ‘scaring’ the winter away by wearing masks and dressing up in costumes, hosting bonfires.

At these bonfires, an effigy of Winter, known as Morė, is burnt to mark the end of the cold season. Staged battles between Lašininis men of winter and the Kanapinis men of spring are usually held, where they duke it out until Spring reigns supreme.

Children also enjoy going trick or treating on this day, but instead of dressing up as a witch or vampire they opt to go as gypsies or fortune tellers, threatening to curse the homes of people who refuse to give them sweets. In Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, many of these celebrations take place on Gediminas Avenue and is a major event at the Rumšiškės open air museum.

In the United Arab Emirates, Halloween is largely unheard of except for in the large and populous city of Dubai. Due to the high population of Western expatriates in the city (around 80 per cent), many have brought over their Halloween traditions from back home. Trick or treating and decorations are now a common occurrence although it hasn’t made its way to the surrounding nations, such as Saudi Arabia.

“You wouldn’t look like a freak if you went out dressed up because a good few people do it” according to Emily Sheahan, a DCU student who has lived in Dubai.

“There’s not as big of a drinking culture around it because of the strict laws so Halloween Balls or parties wouldn’t be as big of a thing as they are here.”

In Dubai, the legal age to drink is 21 years old, a license is required to buy alcohol and can only be bought at restaurants or hotels. There is absolutely zero tolerance for drinking in public or public drunkenness so it’s perhaps best to layoff the Halloween themed cocktails. Despite this, Dubai now hosts a number of events for Halloween due to the Western influence in the past century.

Despite its Pagan beginnings, Halloween has become a secular holiday for everyone from all walks of life to enjoy. So get out there, buy your sexy fidget spinner costume and pig out on the three for €2 offers on multipacks of sweets that’s going at the moment, the whole world will be applauding you.

Aoibhin Bryant

Image Credit: Emily Sheahan