The Halloween we know today has its roots stretching back through history, and it’s an amalgamation of various older festivals from various different countries. It most likely originated as a harvest festival, and honoring the dead later became a part of the celebration.
The Celtic festival of Samhain was traditionally held on November 1, and was a celebration to mark the end of the harvest and the welcoming in of the darker days of winter. Because this festival began on the night before, October 31, it’s a strong contender for the original Halloween.
This means that Halloween is not a uniform affair, and it’s done differently in different countries, even in different regions of those countries. We will take a look at how some European countries celebrate this most spooky time of year.
Discover the origins of Halloween and take part in the spooky festival of Puca in Ireland’s Ancient East. Halloween probably originates from the ancient Irish and Celtic tradition of Samhain, which is the old Irish for “summer’s end,” and it was believed that this was a time of transition, when the veil between our world and the next came down and the spirits of all who died since the last Night of Samhain moved on to the next life.
The festival celebrates Celtic New Year with the spirits of Halloween, and visitors are invited to take part in the ghoulish events from October 23–31. The events and festivities of Puca run across venues in County Meath and County Louth, with a mix of live music, comedy performances, light installations, and fascinating local tours.
2. The Netherlands
If you’re in Amsterdam, you’re likely to find Halloween parties going on all night. The Dutch love to dress up so they make the most of any excuse for putting on a costume and partying. But Halloween isn’t traditionally celebrated in the Netherlands. In fact, in some parts of the country, they celebrate a festival called Sint Maarten, which has so many similarities to Halloween it’s impossible to not draw parallels.
Sint Maarten, or St. Martin’s Day — sometimes called the funeral of St. Martin — is also celebrated in parts of Germany and other surrounding areas, and it falls on or around November 11. Dutch people today are embracing a more modern take on Halloween and you’ll see the most outlandish costumes and stamina for a party you won’t see in many other places.
Children in The Netherlands indulge in a much jollier form of trick or treating for this festival. They still go door to door for candy, but instead of the threat of a trick, they simply sing songs while carrying paper lanterns around.
Trick-or-treating is very popular in England, but as a country full of eerie legends and ghostly stories, there’s also a lot of other events going on at this time of year. Just about every city has a ghost walk and ghost tours. Whitby is where Dracula is said to have come to shore and London has haunted Victorian buildings with stories of the Ripper.
Head offshore to the Isle of Wight and you’ll find an entire island full of ghosts! Tales of bone-chilling goings-on take place at Carisbrooke Castle after dark as part of their ghost tour. Renowned Isle of Wight ghost storytellers will bring you stories of long past horrors and supernatural sightings as you make your way around the castle, a deserted save for a few lost souls.
Halloween parties are also becoming more popular in England, though costumes tend to be more on the scary side than anything glamorous. You can get some innovative treats for your party now, which were unheard of only a few years ago. As Halloween parties grow, Crosstown is one of many treat makers bringing out themed products. Their all-new “Trick or Treat Box” has 15 Halloween dough balls in it and can be delivered to your door.
People all over Scotland will go out “guising” — that’s wearing a costume or a “disguise’” — trick-or-treating and generally having a good time on this ghoulish holiday. But in one small Scottish town, they do things their own way. In the town of Kilmarnock, Halloween is celebrated on the last Friday of October, no matter what date that falls on, and they call it “Killieween.”
Killieween can be traced back to the 1950s, though no one is sure exactly how long it’s been going on. It’s thought that the reasons behind it are connected to the town’s industrial past. The last Friday in the month was payday and children in the town soon realized that this was when most households had some money to spare. The smart Kilmarnock kids knew that if they went out trick-or-treating on this day, they’d be more likely to get some treats.
The Royal Marine Hotel, Highland Coast Hotels’ charming stay in Brora, has recently launched its ghostly Coffin Road walks, allowing guests to venture along some of the most haunted roads combined with tales of death, loss, and ghouls. Hike along the old Coffin Road in a tour from the ruined church and cemetery at Clyne Kirkton before ending on the beautiful banks of Loch Brora at Oldtown.
Once used as the road that transported the dead to their final resting point, it also doubled as an ancient drove road, and leads to the now peaceful, cleared township of Sallachy, where guests will also discover a mystical cup-marked stone, an Iron Age broch, and a hut circle.
The French haven’t been too keen on Halloween in the past and they only really started to embrace it as a holiday and something to be celebrated in the 1990s. Once they got started though, they really got going.
Subverting the typically romantic Parisian allure, Generator Paris hosts a scary dress party, which finishes around 2 a.m. Rooms are clad with candies, cobwebs, and creepy decor. Frightening guests in every corner, the reception floor becomes a sinister screen, showing horror films all night long.
Encouraging guests to show up in their most terrifying state, Generator Paris will gift a 1-night stay to the person wearing the scariest costume. Alongside this, the hostel features a spooky take on classic American diner-style offerings, featuring a signature Halloween serve — the Black Widow cocktail. In typical French style, Halloween in Paris is more about costume balls and doing things in style, rather than trick-or-treating.
Although France is embracing Halloween, it’s slow, and most areas of the country still don’t celebrate it at all. Once you’re out of Paris, you’re likely to find the holiday pass by without anyone paying it any attention at all.
Halloween might not be a recognized holiday in Italy, but All Hallow’s Eve is — the celebration the night before All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day is something Italians have celebrated for years. In Italy, it is known as “Tutti i Santi” or “La festa di Ognissanti.”
Since 1949, November 1 has been a public holiday in Italy and many businesses are closed. But Italian celebrations don’t end on the first of November, and in fact go on until November 2, which is All Souls Day (giorno dei morti) when Italians honor the lives of people who have passed away.
Many Italians will visit graves of loved ones on this day and in the run-up to it. There are other regional traditions around it. For example, in Lombardy, the tradition was to put a bottle of water in the kitchen so that the dead can drink, whilst in Veneto, people instead offer biscuits aptly named “ossi da morti” (bones of the dead) to their loved ones. In Umbria, it’s not biscuits but cakes that are baked. Here, cakes known as “Stinchetti dei Morti” (shins of the dead) are shared and eaten. In Trentino Alto Adige, bells are rung to call the dead to their homes and the table is set for them, as it is also in Piemonte. Creepy.
These days, you’ll find that many of the big Italian cities will celebrate Halloween, perhaps through fancy dress events in the nightclubs or a ghost tour! But there’s no doubt that some of the more traditional events are more interesting, and in some parts of Italy, witches are the focus. In Corinaldo, for example, in the Italian region of Le Marche, there is the “Festa delle Streghe” (Festival of the Witches), which culminates on Halloween. Or in Triora in Liguria, people host celebrations and feasts to remember the 16th-century witch trials which took place there.
7. Transylvania (Romania)
Of course, if you want to get really authentic, you can head to Transylvania in Romania — the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula. As expected, there are plenty of Halloween activities here to really get your spook on, for example, taking a tour through the country’s medieval castles, including the very castle where Vlad used to live.
A particular highlight is the Halloween Party at Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle), where you can enjoy a traditional Transylvanian dinner party with a famous Romanian DJ and partake in a costume contest.
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