Days like Halloween may be for most people just a modern celebration of bad dietary choices, nonsensical costumes and plain consumerism. There is also a belief that all of this is influenced by American culture. Nevertheless, it has been present in distant cultures from thousands of years ago.
Day of the Dead: This Mexican celebration used to be celebrated during the month of August (9th month on the Aztec calendar) by pre-Columbian cultures like the Mayans or the Aztecs. When Spaniards arrived to the Americas, imposing their culture and belief system, they imposed also their religious festivities, like All Hallows’ Eve. The indigenous peoples then started honouring their deceased on the day the Catholic tradition observes, 2nd of November. They kept their customs, and it has evolved into what is the “Día de los Muertos” nowadays.
Back in Europe, for the Celtic people, the 31st October meant the end of the summer, and the beginning of the dark half of the year. It was when they gathered food supplies for the winter from their harvests and cattle. This was believed to be a special night, when the dead could come back to the world of the living. It became a custom to leave food outside their homes as offerings to the spirits. Through Christianization, this celebration was later treated as the eve of All Saints Day, or All Hallows’ Eve.
Also in the summer, the Obon is a 3 day festival during which the Japanese honour their ancestors and visit their graves, and spend time with relatives. Fires are lit to welcome the ancestors’ spirits, and food is offered for them too.
In China, July is believed to be the month in which Hungry Ghosts come back. This time of year is all about honouring one’s elders or making offerings for the Hungry Ghosts. Rituals include burning incense and feasting with family members, or floating lanterns with the names of ancestors on them.