For a Travelette that’s been known to indulge in a spot of merry-making, October isn’t just the time for watching trees change colour and crunching your way through the park. ‘Tis the season instead for the first real excuse to throw a party since the summer – the month of that spooky jamboree where pumpkin sales go through the roof, we’re raiding the festival fancy dress box again and the clocks go back, giving us a whole extra hour of fun time for… Halloween!

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Celebrated by Western countries on October 31st, All Hallows’ Eve is said to date back to the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain, a slightly unnerving time of year when the barrier between the world of the living and the realm of the dead became blurred, allowing naughty spirits to come crashing through and cause chaos amongst crops and livestock unless they were calmed with treats and special offerings.

Nowadays these mischievous spirits have been replaced with children clad in white bed sheets, demanding candy and threatening your front garden with reams of toilet paper whilst the adults run around like costumed lunatics, probably on a whole different type of candy, safe in the knowledge that looking like an actual dead thing during the morning walk of shame will be a socially acceptable sight. Hurrah! Let’s hear it for the dead!

But as we all know, there’s a big old world out there and it’s not just Halloween where the dearly departed are given free reign to cause a little mayhem. Join me as we look at who else is celebrating the dead around the world.

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1) China – The Hungry Ghost Festival

Every year, during the seventh month of the Chinese calendar, this Buddhist festival welcomes the spirits of the ancestors back into the realm of the living, usually as visitors to the household altar where they can drop in on their loved ones.

I remember once cheerfully announcing to my boyfriend that should I meet an untimely end, I will definitely let him know whether the afterlife exists by coming back to say hi if at all possible (depending of course on how much fun I am having/how hard it is to get back in), probably by appearing unexpectedly in the mirror behind him as a fantastic surprise. Strangely, he didn’t like the idea which I found to be a little unadventurous and bordering on hurtful. Especially since in Chinese tradition they celebrate this wondrous occasion with family reunions, meeting to spruce up the graves of the ancestors and lighting beautiful paper lanterns outside their homes to help spirits find their way.

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However, at some point during this month, things take a more sinister turn when the gates of hell are opened and less fortunate souls known as the hungry ghosts decide to come out to play. People offer food and drink as well as burning joss sticks and paper to appease these spirits in order to avoid bad luck tailing them for the rest of the year.

The festival culminates with releasing candles, lanterns and miniature paper boats across water, down rivers and out to sea to guide the ancestors back home to the land of the dead. Oh, and usually an awesome firework display. Ghosts love fireworks.

As well as taking place in China, this celebration occurs throughout much of Asia with Japan’s version being the Obon festival and Vietnam celebrating Tet Trung Nguyen.

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2) Mexico – el Dia de los Muertos

No Halloween flavoured post would be truly complete without a nod to the big bad of all the Scary Mary celebrations – el Dia de los Muertos is truly a party to die for. Scholars reckon the Mexican Day of the Dead originates from the two month-long Aztec festival honouring Mictecacihuati, who holds the cool and imposing sounding title ‘Lady of the Dead’. Fast forward to the present and el Dia de los Muertos is a colourful and vivacious, week-long celebration taking place in November with families and friends gathering on the streets and in cemeteries to pay their respects to those who have passed.

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Traditionally, people build and decorate ofrendas (altars) and visit graves with tokens of photographs, candles, flowers and sugar skulls. Believing that this is the time when the dead can return to enjoy the pleasures of life, sometimes the favourite food and drink of the departed will be left as a graveside offering (for example, I would probably leave a mashed avocado for my sister or douse my best friend’s with vodka).

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A festival of life as much as it is about death, el Dia de los Muertos is now celebrated throughout the Catholic world with the iconic and intricately decorated sugar skulls becoming a popular choice for Halloween fancy dress as well as inspiration for tattoos and art.

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3) Madagascar – Famadihana or the Turning of the Bones

And now for something completely different. The Malagasy people of Madagascar hold the belief that the spirits of the dead will only be released into the world of the ancestors after the body has totally decomposed and after the full range of appropriate ceremonies has been completed.

Cue the fascinating practice of Famadihana, an exhumation ritual taking place every seven years during the winter months where families come together to remove the bodies of their loved ones from where they are peacefully resting, wrap them in silk, spray them with perfume and, erm, dance them around to live music. They hang out for a while with the deceased and even take photographs for posterity before returning them to the tomb with offerings of money and alcohol.

Kind of makes our funeral celebrations seem pretty tame. Must try harder.

4) Salem, Massachusetts – Festival of the Dead

If the name Salem sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of the famously horrifying Salem Witch Trials of the 1600s where an unusually high number of witchcraft accusations in the local community led to the imprisonment and subsequent execution of 22 people. With this grisly history, perhaps it is only fitting that in the present day, Salem hosts the annual Festival of the Dead, a celebration of death’s customs and rituals taking place throughout the month of October.

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On Halloween, witches from around the world gather on Salem Common for the magic circle, to honour those that have passed away. After this ritual, it’s time to get your glad rags on at the Salem Witches’ Halloween Ball (tickets available in advance). The theme this year is Voodoo Visions and 1st place fancy dress prize nets you a magical $1000 in cash.

Other events include the Annual Psychic Fair and Witchcraft Expo with tarot readings, past life readings, palmistry and all sorts of fortune-telling shenanigans as well as talks from famous witches and warlocks, guided meditations, ghost hunting and séances going on throughout the month.

5) Haiti – Ghede

This Haitian day of the dead takes place on November 2nd and is a raucous celebration with traditional West African Voodoo drumming, dancing and prayer employed to awaken and channel the Ghedes or spirits of the underworld. It is a day where not only are the dead remembered and honoured but also a time to appease the spirits with offerings, thanking them for any gifts or good fortune they may have granted throughout the year. Be warned, if they are not sufficiently repaid, it is believed they will seek vengeance.

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Cemeteries are visited where the tombs of loved ones are cleaned whilst prayers and offerings are dedicated to the ruler of the graveyard and lord of the dead, Baron Samedi. The Baron is usually depicted as a fairly snazzy dresser in top hat, black tuxedo and dark glasses and is allegedly a bit of a party animal (along with the rest of the Ghede) with a reputation for disruption, obscenity and debauchery. As is only fitting, Ghede is celebrated with high-spirited processions and a big, fat party where alcohol flows freely and the dancing continues until dawn.

If you’re a bit stumped as to what get the spirit that has everything, remember Baron Samedi has a particular fondness for offerings of cigarettes, white spiced rum and the colours purple and black. Best to keep him happy as this guy not only rules the dead but can also choose to keep you out of the grave if he sees fit. Definitely a party guest you want to show a good time.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed our spirited trip around the world. Happy Halloween! How will you celebrate yours?

Image 1 via Professor Bop, Image 2 via Shots at Random, Image 3 via Jeff Laitila, Image 4 via Miki Yoshihoto, Image 5&6 via Rob Sheridan, Image 7 via Alejandro Castro, Image 8 via Let Ideas Compete, Image 9 via Wikipedia, Image 10 via Diogenes

Alex Saint is a writer based in Bristol, England – a place she calls home due to its friendly, diverse atmosphere and never-ending list of fun things to do. She loves tattoos, quirky fashion, pugs and, of course, travelling.

Keep up with the Saint sisters and their adventures in Bristol, London and beyond at www.saintsonaplane.com and @saintsonaplane or Alex herself @alexsaint13

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