Beyond Halloween: Best Macabre Festivals Worldwide
For centuries, human beings have celebrated the more macabre issues of life (and death) by throwing huge festivals.
Often, societies believe that there comes a time during each year when the veil between the living world and the next world becomes thin, allowing spirits to roam the Earth once more.
Alternatively, some civilizations simply want to celebrate the lives that were led by their relatives and friends before they passed away.
A particularly popular festival of this nature is Samhain, which began centuries ago when the Celtic Pagans believed that the dead would return to damage crops.
To appease the ghosts, families set an extra place at the dinner table, offered drinks and occasionally lit bonfires.
By the 16th century, children began dressing up and going to neighbors’ houses to read poems in exchange for sweets. Of course, this holiday is now recognized by most as Halloween.
For most families in the west, Halloween remains a staple in the winter celebrations and it has become a mainstay in popular culture. Pictures of Halloween costumes flood the internet each year, huge parties are thrown and troops of children are taken out trick or treating.
Interestingly, Halloween has even managed to permeate more modern aspects of life such as films and games. Every year, new scary movies are released around October 31st and are watched by thousands of individuals looking to be frightened.
For example, 2017’s most anticipated Halloween movie Jigsaw earned over $16 million during its opening weekend alone. Meanwhile, horror games are becoming increasingly popular, with series such as Amnesia and Red Barrels' Outlast being downloaded by thousands.
The iGaming industry is particularly enamored with scary games. There’s even a licensed Halloween slot based on John Carpenter’s legendary 1978 movie as well as plenty of other eerily-themed casino titles such as Immortal Romance, Beautiful Bones, and the Phantom of the Opera.
Needless to say, it appears that no matter your age or interests, the macabre remains endlessly entertaining.
Still, Halloween isn’t the only festival on Earth celebrating the dead. No, there are plenty of other macabre festivals celebrated all around the world…
4 Macabre Festivals From Around the World Bigger & Better Than Halloween
1. Festa della Befana, Italy
According to legend, January 6th marks the day that the three wise men visited Jesus bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. To celebrate this event, Italian families have a festival named Epifania – or Epiphany in English – which is a crucial part of the festivities surrounding Christmas.
In fact, like Christmas Day, January 6th includes exchanging gifts, but presents are not delivered by Santa Claus. Instead, they are dropped off by a witch named Befana who travels around Italy on her broomstick.
You see, it is said that the three wise men asked Befana for directions to Bethlehem; however, she was unsure and instead offered them a place to stay for the night.
The three wise men asked Befana to accompany them to visit Jesus, but she was convinced she had far too much housework. Fortunately, in the end, Befana filled a sack with bread and followed the three wise men, handing bread to children she met along the way thinking they may be God’s child.
Alas, Befana never found the stable and so continues to wander Italy giving gifts to children.
2. Hop-tu-Naa, Isle of Man
Though the meaning behind Hop-tu-Naa is uncertain, it is thought to be the original New Year’s Eve and is the oldest unbroken tradition in the Isle of Man.
That said, this festival does not take place on December 31st, or even on January 1st, it actually occurs on the Celtic New Year October 31st. It marks the end of summer and the beginning of winter, when farmers used to gather their harvest and prepare for the cold weather.
These days, Isle of Man natives celebrate by singing the traditional Hop-tu-Naa rhyme Around The Houses while crafting and carrying turnip lanterns. In the past, children used to carry turnip stumps with them as well, to batter the houses of anyone who refused to give them money or treats.
Other activities include dancing and, perhaps most interestingly, divination including weather prediction, prophesying, and fortune-telling.
3. Obon, Japan
Each and every year, people in Japan celebrate the Buddhist festival of Obon during which ancestors’ spirits are said to return to the world of the living to visit their remaining relatives.
This event is very similar to the Chinese Yu Lan, otherwise known as The Hungry Ghost Festival. There isn’t a dedicated date for Obon; instead, it is celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of the 7th month of the year.
Though this would mean July according to the solar calendar, Obon is actually usually observed in August – the 7th month of the lunar calendar.
For example, the Obon festival period usually takes place between August 11th and August 19th. To celebrate, lanterns are hung near the front doors of houses to help the spirits find their living relatives, Obon dances known as bon odori are encouraged and graves are visited with food offerings.
Households with access to house altars and temples also make food offerings there to encourage spirits to visit.
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4. Dia de los Muertos, Mexico
Otherwise known as Day of the Dead, Mexico’s macabre festival is probably the most famous of its kind in the world. In fact, it is so widely recognized that Day of the Dead was inducted into the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2008.
Celebrated in late October through to early November, Dia de los Muertos is a public holiday where families and friends come together to pray for loved ones who have passed away.
Like during Obon and Yu Lan, food is prepared, eaten, and offered to spirits, with favorite dishes including pan de muerto and calaveras. The latter is particularly popular; otherwise known as sugar skulls, it has been adopted by many other nations around the world.
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If you would like to experience these magical celebrations check out our featured festival tours worldwide.