Halloween around the world

Taylor Underwood, sophomore in hospitality management, hands out candy to trick-or-treaters at the Sunset Zoo's SPOOKtacular event on Oct. 24, 2015. (Miranda Snyder | The Collegian)

Dating as far back as 2,000 years, Halloween is a holiday that has evolved throughout the ages. Though it was originally a Celtic, pagan festival called Samhain, where bonfires were lit to ward off ghosts and animal sacrifices were made to Celtic gods, Halloween has grown into a holiday that is celebrated in many countries all over the world, according to History.com.

As Halloween spread around the globe, different countries acquired different traditions to celebrate the holiday.


Many English-speaking countries and a number of European countries celebrate Halloween in similar manners: dressing up, trick-or-treating and partying. The U.S., however, is the only country that celebrates Halloween at such a large scale, according to foreign exchange students around K-State.

One of the most celebrated traditions of Halloween is trick-or-treating. The origin of trick-or-treating began in the middle ages when children and impoverished adults dressed up in costumes and traveled door-to-door begging for money or food in exchange for songs, prayers and jokes, according to Rose Eveleth’s Smithsonian.com article, “The History of Trick Or Treating Is Weirder Than You Thought.”

Today, trick-or-treating is a child-friendly activity mostly performed in English-speaking countries and some European countries. According to Maria Zorena, special undergraduate in English and exchange student from the United Kingdom, trick-or-treating is a Halloween tradition observed by children in the U.K.

“People go trick-or-treating, but it’s not as big as (in America) and you would always go at 4 p.m. or like 5 p.m. with your parents and then you would go back home,” Zorena said.

Likewise, in Australia trick-or-treating is a part of Halloween, but it is not as large of a Halloween tradition as it in the U.S., according to Annelise Caplan, special undergraduate in open option and exchange student from Australia.

“Young kids sometimes trick-or-treat, but we don’t really celebrate it,” Caplan said. “Sometimes people have Halloween parties.”

In European countries, the tradition of trick-or-treating is not as common as it is in other English-speaking countries.

In Hungary, there are two different versions of Halloween celebrated, according to Rebekah Jackson, freshman in modern languages and exchange student from Hungary. While the fall celebration is called All Saints’ Day, a holiday largely celebrated by Catholic nations on Nov. 1 to commemorate the saints of the church, the spring celebration of Halloween is more similar to the American celebration.

“There is something that is really similar to Halloween where all the kids dress up and go to a party,” Jackson said. “They don’t go trick-or-treating there, but they do dress up as like doctors or ghosts or witches, a lot like here. That’s kind of a way to celebrate the dead winter is gone and the life of spring is coming.”

Jenny Barte, special undergraduate in anthropology, is an international student from Sweden. In her country, Halloween is celebrated by dressing up; however, Barte said the holiday is primarily celebrated by adults who want to party.

“(Halloween) is not celebrated by kids,” Barte said. “I think that the group that started to take it to Sweden were people who wanted to drink and wanted another reason to party, but it’s spreading to kids now, as well, but, it’s not a tradition to do trick-or-treat(ing) now.”

Halloween Movies Explain Culture

Some parts of the world do not celebrate Halloween at all; however, many people in these countries have heard of the holiday through American movies.

Mateus Zuliani, special undergraduate in mechanical engineering, said Halloween is not celebrated much, if at all, in his home country of Brazil. Zuliani said a lot of what he’s learned about American Halloween came from American movies, though.

“I know things I see in movies,” Zuliani said. “People go out and trick-or-treat and I’ve heard about people going to Halloween parties, and it is much stronger than it is in Brazil.”

Qingling Li, senior in food science and industry, is an exchange student from China and said that, like Zuliani, most of what she has learned about Halloween came from American movies and western cultural studies.

“In our English class our teacher would share with us different kinds of western culture festivals, so I think Halloween was one of them,” Li said.

Change in Tradition

In Nigeria, Halloween is not celebrated at all; however, Nneoma Asinugo, junior in architecture, said she knew about Halloween before coming to America.

“I already knew of Halloween, but I didn’t know how seriously people took it before I came here, but we don’t even think of it in Nigeria,” Asinugo said.

The American tradition of Halloween dates back to colonial times when the celebration of the holiday was popular in Maryland and other southern colonies; colonists would tell “stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortune, dance and sing,” according to History.com. Halloween was made popular by European immigrants, specifically Irish, in the later half of the 19th century. By the 1950s, Halloween had become the holiday it is today in the U.S.

In some countries, Halloween may not be as big of a deal, but that doesn’t stop students from foreign countries from getting involved in American Halloween celebrations. Barte said she is going to participate in Halloween by dressing up.

“Since we’re in Kansas, I bought this Dorothy from the ‘Wizard of Oz’ outfit and I’m going to be Dorothy, and I’ll probably go to Aggieville,” Barte said.