Did you know that many different cultures have their own versions of the Halloween holiday?

From the Celtic tradition of Samhain to the catholic festival of All Saints Day, countries from around the world have their own unique ways of welcoming and honoring the spirits! We looked into various cultural Halloween traditions so that you can take part in these spiritual celebrations without ever leaving the United States.

Written by Juliana Schnerr



Origin: Ireland

Today: Salem

Samhain History

Samhain is an ancient Gaelic festival that signifies the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. On this day each year, it was believed that otherworldly spirits and the souls of the dead could cross over into the human world, so offerings were left outside for them and an empty place was left at the dinner table. Huge bonfires were lit on hilltops to hold back winter’s darkness and help predict the future. Practitioners dressed up in costume to disguise themselves from the visiting spirits and traveled door-to-door performing songs or poems in exchange for food. These pagan practices inspired some of the Halloween traditions we know and love today!

Samhain Today

Many neopagan and Wiccan communities across Ireland, the UK, and the United States still observe the practices of Samhain today. Large Samhain festivals are held each October and November across the New England region, where many Irish immigrants first settled.

The “Celebrate Samhain Festival” is held annually in Nashua, NH and offers metaphysical and magical presentations and workshops, live Celtic music, and a ritual fire.

Salam MA, known for its large Wiccan and witch community, holds the “Salem Witches Magic Circle”, a Halloween ritual in the spirit of Samhain honoring loved ones and celebrating the final harvest, at the center of Salem Common.


Dia de Muertos

Origin: Mexico

Today: Chicago, San Diego

Dia de Muertos History

Dia de Muertos or “Day of the Dead”, is a multi-day holiday originally celebrated in Mexico. The holiday is a time for families to come together and remember their ancestors and lost loved ones. Families build private altars, called “ofrendas”, that feature family photos, sugar skulls, flowers, and the favorite foods of the deceased. Food and other offerings are also left at family gravesites, where people from all over the region come to gather.

Dia de Muertos Today

Today, Dia de Muertos is practiced across Mexico, other Central American countries, and parts of the United States with large concentrations of Mexican-Americans. Chicago and San Diego are two centers for celebration, with city-wide festivals, popular parties, cultural shows, and art exhibits.

The National Museum of Mexican Art, located in Chicago, transforms into a space to honor loved ones at their “Day of the Dead Xicago” event. Practitioners and outsiders alike are invited to enjoy music, food, traditional decorations, and art activities as well as a city-wide ofrenda projected on the museum’s exterior!

Various San Diego neighborhoods hold their own Day of the Dead festivities, with Encinitas and City Heights holding some of the biggest celebrations in the city! The streets overflow with live performances, community altars, art workshops, dancing, and traditional food and drink. North Park also holds a “Day of the Dead Festival”, celebrating Mexican food, drink, crafts, and culture and teaching visitors all about the holiday.


All Saints Day

Origin: Catholic European Nations

Today: New Orleans

Photo by Anton Darius

All Saints Day History

All Saints Day, also known as “All Hallows Day” is a holiday rooted in the Christian faith that recognizes the saints both known and unknown. It is a time where practitioners attend a special Mass and give thanks and celebrate the bond between those in heaven and those on earth. The holiday was introduced by the Catholic church in the early 8th century to replaced Samhain, which was seen as a sacrilegious, pagan festival. Over time, the celebration spread across Europe to Western Asia, and eventually in the United States, with different religious sects holding the holiday on different days and instituting new traditions.

All Saints Day Today

Today, All Saints Day continues to be celebrated across the world in most predominantly Christian countries. In the United States, most churchgoers attend All Saints Day Mass no matter their city, but no city takes All Saints Day as seriously as New Orleans, LA. The city has a rich religious history, and the ever-present cemeteries around the city give it’s residents a special connection to the dead. Masses and processions are held among the aboveground tombs of the city’s famous cemeteries, and flowers and wreaths are left beside graves across the state.

NOLA’s official “All Saints Day Mass” is held at St. Louis Cemetery #3, and involves music and a blessing of the graves.

If you make the trip to St. Martinville, a small Catholic city on Bayou Teche, you can attend service at St. Martin du Tours, one of the oldest churches in the state where visitors still lay waxed paper wreaths atop each grave in an ancient All Saints Day tradition.

What are your traditions for this time of year?

Have you ever attended one of these celebrations before?

Let us know in the comments!

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