Autumn is one of our favorite times of year. From pumpkin picking to trick-or-treating, we love our fall traditions — but have you ever wondered what other cultures do to celebrate? There are so many Halloween and harvest festivals in nearly every nation, it’s impossible to fit all the fun into a single night or two.
Whether you’re indulging your traveling bone or enjoy learning about other cultures, check out these celebrations from around the world. From Mexico to Japan, people spanning the globe have unique ways of giving thanks for the best season of the year — fall.
1. El Día de las Brujas, Spain
In Spain, Halloween is actually a three-day celebration — El Dia de las Brujas, Dia Todos Los Santos and Dia de los Muertos.
Las Brujas means “the witches” in Spanish. This day corresponds with the Roman Catholic feast of All Souls on October 31st. November 1st is “All Saints Day” to honor the deceased, and November 2nd concludes the celebration with “The Day of the Dead,” a holiday that has carried over in significance to South America. Different regions celebrate in different ways — in the northwest region of Galicia, the October 31 celebration is the Day of the Pumpkins, or El Día de Las Calabazas.
Today , university and high school students participate in American-style Halloween festivities for El Dia de las Brujas, in particular. Younger children dress up and go from shop to shop, similar to the way kids trick-or-treat. Inhabitants of some regions carve pumpkins and gourds in a nod to Celtic celebrations. Parades and parties abound.
2. The Olive Harvest and Olive Branch Festival, Palestine and Israel
The humble olive doesn’t get enough respect. Think of how many dishes would fall flat if not for this tasty oil. And when it comes to the Palestine, olives are more than a garnish — they’re a staple crop that sustains the people’s way of life, so the harvest calls for a hearty celebration. When in the Middle East, visit the Olive Harvest in Palestine or explore the Olive Branch Festival in Israel.
Olives represent peace to many, and during this time, harvesters promote harmony between nations and peoples. Palestinians take the entire family out to the groves and witness how these fruits grow. They also make fresh olive oil, sing for the blessed olive tree and celebrate the ancient land’s most beloved symbol. In the Golan Heights, Galilee and north valleys of Israel, olive-press workshops, vineyard tours and musical events are a prominent part of the harvest festival.
3. Día de Los Muertos, Mexico
Fans of Disney’s Coco will adore heading south of the border to celebrate Día de Los Muertos in Mexico. All of Jalisco gathers in Guadalajara to party in the streets and honor their dead. Beautifully painted faces and colorful costumes greet you from every street corner.
Privately, families construct an ofrenda, or offering, decorated with gifts representing the four elements of earth, water, wind and fire. Any Mexican fiesta means delicious food, including pan del muerto, or bread of the dead. People visit the graves of their ancestors to sing and pray.
4. The Harvest Moon Festival, Korea
Ch’useok takes place in September or October in Korea. The festival combines a celebration of the harvest with honoring one’s ancestors. It begins with a ceremonial parade of food and drink, which they offer symbolically to the dead.
The living show off their athletic prowess with wrestling contests and intricate dances. The circle dance, or Ganggangsuwollae, tells a story of Korean women who dressed up as men to make Japanese invaders think their forces were higher in number.
5. Samhain, Ireland
This festival is where the Western celebration of Halloween began. Samhain, pronounced “sah-when,” refers to the ancient Celtic harvest festival marking the beginning of the shorter days of the year. Modern Wiccans consider the day a religious holiday.
Children dress up and go trick-or-treating or play knock-a-dolly, a game similar to ding-dong ditch. They ring someone’s doorbell and quickly run away. Parties include bonfires and bobbing for apples.
6. Obon Festival, Japan
Even though Japan doesn’t celebrate Halloween the way Americans do, their festival of their ancestors sounds spooky spoken out loud. The celebration, pronounced “oh-bone,” includes lighting multiple red lanterns to honor those who have died. People perform a ceremony where they clean their homes thoroughly and sweep a path between their front doors and nearby graves. They clean memorial stones and perform dances before setting their lanterns afloat to light the path back to the afterlife.
7. Rice Harvest, Indonesia
People in the West wouldn’t know what to do without bread. For those in the east, rice serves as a similar dietary staple. In Indonesia, people give thanks for this vital food with the Rice Harvest.
In Bali, residents honor Dewy Sri, the rice goddess. They festoon their villages with flags and construct small bamboo temples to worship her. They craft small dolls representing the deity and place them within the temples.
8. Pongal, India
Pongal is one of the most meaningful annual Hindu festivals celebrating the harvest and cattle. The word refers to a dish made with rice and jaggery. Jaggery is a sugary syrup derived from palm tree sap — think of it like maple syrup. The celebration spans four days during which people celebrate by feasting with their families.
9. La Calabiuza, El Salvador
Have you heard the tale of La Llorona, or the wailing woman? Fly south to El Salvador where celebrants dress like her and other creepy legendary figures from folk tales. They parade through the streets and cook pumpkin and other treats at night in the main square. The next day, people place wreaths on the graves of deceased loved ones and hold picnics in cemeteries.
Celebrate Halloween & the Harvest the International Way
Autumn is the perfect time to celebrate — not only in America, but also around the globe. This year, give your harvest or Halloween celebration an international flair by learning about how other cultures welcome the cooler weather.
Alyssa Abel is an education blogger with a special interest in study abroad, language learning and cultural education. Read more of her work for students and educators on her blog, Syllabusy, connect with her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.