Celebrating, Halloween Style

29th October 2019

It is true that barring its commercial appeal, Halloween—being predominantly European in origin—does not have takers everywhere in the Asia Pacific or other parts of the world. Yet, many countries and cultures have their own, unique festivals that are very much like Halloween. Check out some of these whacky and wonderful traditions from Asia that share similarities with Halloween…

A Halloween-style festival celebrated with much fervour in China is Teng Chieh, or the Lantern Festival. Dragon-shaped and other animal-style lanterns are hung around houses and streets as guiding lights to help the spirits find their way back to their earthly homes. Family members are said to leave food and water besides the portraits of their ancestors to honour their loved ones who have passed.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, Halloween celebrations take the form of Yue Lan, or the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. People light bonfires and offer gifts and food to pacify ghosts who might be angry or seeking revenge!

In Cambodia, from end September to mid-October, Buddhist families come together to celebrate Pchum Ben to celebrate the dead. Sticky rice and beans wrapped in banana leaves are served as offerings, and temples are visited to pay respect to deceased ancestors. The festival is also a celebration of the elderly.

Pangangaluluwa, celebrated in the Philippines, has children going door to door, often in costumes, and sing and ask for prayers for those stuck in the underworld. In recent times, this celebration bears greater resemblance to trick or treating.

In Japan, Halloween fans get together for the Kawasaki Halloween Parade, the biggest parade of its kind in Japan. In the summer, the Obon Festival honours the spirits of ancestors with fire lighting and red lantern displays at night. These lanterns are also launched into rivers and the ocean.

In South Korea, Chuseok is a festival similar to Halloween. It is a time when people thank and pay respect to their ancestors by visiting their tombs and making offerings food. Chuseok is also known as Korean Thanksgiving Day. People visit relatives, friends and acquaintances and offer gifts during this time.

Another ritual to honour deceased ancestors is practiced by many people in India. Pitru Paksha is a religious, 16-day celebration during the second phase of the Hindu lunar month. During this time, Hindu religion cites that deceased souls may briefly return to their earthly homes. A fire ritual called Shraddha is also performed to secure the entire family’s place in the afterlife. During Pitru Paksha, families offer dead ancestors a feast cooked in silver or copper pots and served on banana leaves.

There are many other such festivals and traditions found across the globe, with the fundamental purpose behind celebration sharing a common thread—honouring ancestors and loved ones who have departed, as well as heralding spring and a new harvest. Be it Halloween, the Day of the Dead, or any other such festival, every celebration and cultural ritual has roots in the faith and belief systems of its peoples. And that’s what makes celebration around the world so colourful, interesting, vibrant and unifying yet diverse!

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster