It’s that time of year. The air is crisp, leaves are falling and the days are getting longer. Soon kids (and all the kids-at-heart) will dress up and the air will be filled with shouts of “trick-or-treat!” Still others will stay indoors watching scary movies, pretending not to be scared of the dark. Yep, it’s Halloween. But do many of you know how Halloween began? While there are many influences on the modern celebration of Halloween, most agree that the basis for the holiday is a blend of Celtic and Christian traditions. The practice of jack-o-lanterns comes from the Celts, as they would carve turnips into lanterns to help guide departed spirits. Trick-or-treating began as Christian children would go door to door collecting bread in exchange for prayers for loved ones. After looking into the history of Halloween, I wondered if other cultures had similar celebrations, so I asked my co-workers to tell me about some of their homeland traditions.
Hailing from Croatia, Lilly Jasarovic told me that recently more Croatians are celebrating the modern Halloween with costumes and trick or treating. But she also told me of the festival Maškare which is celebrated right before Lent. During this festival, people dress up in costumes and celebrate with big masquerade parties, parades and bonfires.
Children are often given small doughnut-like pastries called fritule, as gifts by adults.
In Ethiopia, they celebrate the festival of Buhé (pronounced boo-hay). Ahmed Abogn let me know that Buhe, sometimes referred to as Ethiopia’s Halloween, is celebrated in August near the end of the rainy season. On the night of Buhe, young boys will go door to door singing and dancing, asking for small gifts, like bread or (nowadays) money. Families will also light bonfires and gather around to celebrate.
Kaylan Dahal, a Bhutanese-Nepali caseworker, spoke about the traditions of Diwali. The festival is a Hindu festival, also known as the Festival of Lights. During this time families decorate their homes with flowers and it is a time to share food and blessings with each other. During the festival, groups will go door to door singing songs or blessings and are rewarded with small gifts. Kaylan tells me that in the refugee camp, you could visit nearly 100 homes because they were so close together.
Caseworker Law Reh spoke of the Karenni Deeku festival. Named for the leaf-wrapped sticky rice that is cooked during this time, the festival is held with large group dances around sacred poles. Sometimes people will wear masks during the celebrations. They will also go door to door sharing gifts with one another. Families will also make sculptures (Law described them similar to scarecrows) that will be placed in front of homes to protect from evil spirits. This festival can take a week to celebrate and is a time to look forward into the next year as fortunes can also be told during this time.
Learning about all the different ways and reasons my coworkers celebrate was really great! I got to hear about their homes and traditions as well as share some tidbits about Halloween too. If this kind of history interested you, I hope you can take some time to learn more about the different traditions in the world because, as this blog showed me, despite the many differences, we are more similar than we sometimes think.
Kristyne Walth, Volunteer Coordinator, LSS Center for New Americans