The first thing to know about Halloween around the world is that nowhere in the world is Halloween celebrated to the extent that it is in the United States.
Apart from the UK and Ireland—where Halloween has its roots—celebrations can be little to non-existent. New Zealand and Australia, for example, have disappointed many an expat by their lack of participation in spooky festivities.
That said, many nations around the world commemorate their dead around late October/early November—albeit without pumpkins, trick-or-treating or candy corn. Here’s a round-up of some of the quirkiest practices that happen around the world at this time of year…
- Hide The Knives (Germany)
Germans believe in remembering and respecting their dead around this time. An old tradition involves hiding away any knives in the house to prevent any returning spirits from harm (or from causing harm).
- Beans Of The Dead (Italy)
On Nov. 2, Italians traditionally cook fave dei morte or “beans of the dead.” Less sinister than they sound, these small, soft, oval-shaped almond cookies are prepared by the living for the returning dead.
- A Ring In The Cake (Ireland)
The “barmbrack” is a staple of Irish Halloween. Into this rich fruitcake, made with sultanas and/or raisins soaked in cold black tea, a ring (usually wrapped in baking parchment) is dropped before the mix is popped in the oven. Whoever receives the slice with the ring is said to find love in the coming 12 months.
- It’s All In The Apple Peel (Scotland)
In Scotland, an old Halloween game involves peeling an apple into one long, unbroken piece and throwing the skin behind your back. The letter formation the peel represents is said to be the first initial of your future spouse.
- Welcome Back The Dead (Mexico)
When we said nothing comes close to America’s trademark Halloween, we weren’t counting Mexico, of course. Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos) is celebrated in a spectacular way over three days from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. Families place food, drink, and marigolds (the traditional flower of the dead) before photographs of their deceased loved ones. Elaborate face-painting, skull-decorating, and paper-skeleton-making are also common. Not forgetting mariachi music, dancing, and tequila.
- Pull Up To The Fire (Czech Republic)
On Halloween night in the Czech Republic, chairs are placed in front of the fireplace—one for every living family member and one for each deceased member.
- World’s Most Terrifying Jack-O’-Lantern (Britain)
If a carved pumpkin is enough to freak you, prepare to be terrified by its predecessor: the turnip. When the Irish and British first introduced their Halloween traditions to America, they were carving turnips and swedes (decidedly scarier than the plump orange pumpkin). In parts of northern England and Scotland, the turnip still reigns today.
- All Burglars’ Day? (Poland)
In Poland, families remember their dead on All Saints’ Day. One tradition of this day involves leaving the windows and doors of your home open to welcome in the spirits.
- “Go To Sleep… Or The Dead Won’t Bring You Any Gifts!” (Sicily, Italy)
On Nov. 2, Sicilians celebrate All Saints’ Day. Similar to Christmas, children wake to find candy and gifts believed to have come… not from Santa… but the dead who rose from their graves. Enough said.
Editor’s Note: Of course we’d never judge a place on how it celebrates Halloween (or ignores it altogether). When we introduce the top retirement destinations in the world, though, we always do our best to bring you the good, the bad, and the plain surprising—no sugar coating. If you’re ready for this type of insider reporting on the best opportunities in the world right now, be sure to read Overseas Retirement Letter.