warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Halloween Around The World

Susy Guerrero |
October 20, 2013 | 6:30 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Soul cakes were offered to spirits on Samhain (Creative Commons/Flickr)
Soul cakes were offered to spirits on Samhain (Creative Commons/Flickr)

Many consider Halloween to be that one time of year to dress in elaborate costumes and overindulge in sweets. Americans celebrate the holiday with personal favorites like Reese’s, Snickers and anything covered in chocolate. Yet for many of us, the history behind Halloween can be a blur.

While today Halloween doesn’t necessarily praise the dead, its history is rooted back to an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain that did just that. Unlike Halloween, Samhain is a serious religious practice that honors the dead.

According to BBC, Samhain is the time of year when the threshold between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. The spirits of the dead could easily mingle with the living once again.

Flat, circular pastries called soul cakes were typically offered to spirits. Check out this easy recipe for soul cakes here.

SEE ALSOCheap Halloween Eats

A fascination with the dead is prevalent throughout various cultures around the world. Check out the list below to see how different countries pay homage to their ancestors and the dead with special foods. According to NPR, by the eighth century soul cakes were used to pay beggars who came around on All Soul’s Eve and offered a prayer for the deceased. Suddenly trick-or-treating makes a lot of sense.  



Sugar skulls honor the deceased on Dia de los Muertos (Creative Commons/Flickr)
Sugar skulls honor the deceased on Dia de los Muertos (Creative Commons/Flickr)


In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on Nov. 1 through Nov. 2. On these dates, the dead are summoned to pay their living relatives a visit. An altar filled with photographs, candles and food is dedicated to the deceased family member and among the food prepared are vibrantly colored sugar skulls. “The colorful designs represent the vitality of life and individual personality,” according to NPR. Traditionally, the favorite meal of the deceased individual is also prepared.

Check out how to make your own sugar skulls here.


Rice pudding is offered to priests during Pitru Paksha (Creative Commons/Flickr)
Rice pudding is offered to priests during Pitru Paksha (Creative Commons/Flickr)


In India, Pitru Paksha is a 15-day period remembering the dead. It begins Sep. 20 and ends Oct. 4. Earthly pleasures like shopping, cutting nails and sex must be put on hold in order to honor the dead. Failing to do so will result in misfortune and anger the spirits. Water and food are offered to the poor while rice pudding, lentils and vegetables are offered to priests in order to appease the ancestors.

Saveur Magazine has a simple Indian rice pudding recipe here.



The Lantern Festival celebrated in Japan (Creative Commons/Flickr)
The Lantern Festival celebrated in Japan (Creative Commons/Flickr)


Obon, or the festival of lanterns, is a ceremony celebrated in Japan. Similar to Dia de los Muertos, Obon is a day when spirits return to visit their relatives, and during the festival paper lanterns are hung in front of houses in order to guide the spirits home. The food prepared for the occasion varies but usually consists of traditional foods such as sushi, udon and teriyaki. 



Cambodian monks feasting (Creative Commons/Flickr)
Cambodian monks feasting (Creative Commons/Flickr)


In Cambodia, Pchum Ben is a two-week ceremony celebrated on the 15th day of the 10th month on the Khmer calendar. “This is a time when the spirits of the dead ancestors walk the Earth. And the living can ease their suffering by offering them food to eat,” according to an article by Antonio Graceffo. During Pchum Ben, “bay bens” are prepared for Buddhist temples. Bay ben is sticky rice rolled into a ball and covered in sesame. Monks are also offered food and gifts during the ceremony.


Click here for more Halloween 2013 stories, tips and celebration ideas.


Reach Staff Reporter Susy Guerrero here



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.