Even though Hallowe’en has pagan roots in the European holidays of Samhain and Winter Nights, the holiday is now a popular (and secular) celebration in many places around the globe. Though some are keen to stick to the more frightening traditions, such as dressing in a ghoulish costume complete with fake blood, many are happy to munch on candy and maybe even carve a pumpkin.
Today, many celebrations bundle autumn harvest events with Hallowe’en. However, there’s a growing distinction between the holiday and seasonal activities, especially as companies look to promote specials related to the holiday or, like most people, get in the spooky spirit with decorations.
With the holiday gaining popularity worldwide, many companies feature Hallowe’en themes around the end of October and early November. For example, an online casino might feature special titles alongside favourites in order to reflect the season, while a video streaming platform might highlight its catalog of spooky films and shows.
This latter example highlights the decidedly PG version of Hallowe’en that most are happy to celebrate. However, it’s important to remember that the holiday was once associated with the rise of the dead from their mortal resting grounds and their escapades haunting the living.
Some groups are eager to keep these scary traditions going—no matter the cost. In most cases, these are just ‘slightly ghastly’ events, including the Whitby Goth Weekend in England or the Salem Witches’ Ball in Massachusetts. But some have truly terrifying origins which stretch back centuries and have seen such coverage that they’re not just considered haunting events, but important moments in history.
This region in Eastern Europe is known for being home to one of medieval Europe’s most bloodthirsty rulers: Vlad the Impaler. During his reign at Bran Castle, Vlad the Impaler helped promote local Wallachian rights amidst times of political unrest… and he used bloody purges to do it.
Internationally, Vlad the Impaler tends to be known for his gory exploits, many of which were centred in his castle’s dungeon. However, for many locals, he’s a hero who fought to preserve the rights of local landowners and workers from Ottoman rule.
Today, Vlad is remembered for his portrayal as Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel, which is based on his title of Vlad Dracul. Visitors can take guided tours of Vlad’s old stomping grounds, including the castle he ruled in and his birthplace.
Remember the mention of Samhain before? Samhain is one of four traditional Celtic seasonal holidays, which corresponds to the harvesting of crops and the thinning of the veil between the living and the dead. Samhain is known in Germanic circles as ‘Winter Nights’, as well as All Saints’ Eve.
In Edinburgh, ancient culture is kept alive in the Samhain Fire Festival, run by a local society that creates public events to preserve Celtic traditions. Coupled with the spooky nature of Edinburgh’s gothic quarters, this celebration is sure to be remembered.
Those looking for a truly terrifying tour of the Scottish city can also check out Edinburgh’s underground vaults, where urban legends abound related to paranormal activity. Tours are offered year-round but tend to get spookier as Samhain approaches.
Though Hong Kong doesn’t have a storied history with Hallowe’en quite like Transylvania or Edinburgh does, the city has adopted the holiday. However, there’s another longstanding tradition in certain parts of East and Southeast Asia related to hungry ghosts, which is celebrated for one month as Yue Lan.
Yue Lan is a folk-based tradition that honours ancestors who have moved on to the other side. Yue Lan festivities are designed to give honour, remembrance, and, in some cases, earthly goods to those who have passed on. Keep in mind that some festivities are more austere than spooky—they’re meant to appease ancestors and deities now that the veil between worlds has ‘thinned’.
Those visiting Hong Kong during Hallowe’en or Yue Lan will find ample celebrations to join, including parties at Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park, as well as the Lan Kwai Fong district, which is famous for its Hallowe’en themes.