The commercial Halloween festivity that is well-known in the US is being slowly adopted by most most European countries that celebrate Halloween. Despite this, Halloween parties and costumes are most common amongst younger generations of Europeans whilst older generations still follow their own national traditions.
It is worth mentioning that most of the traditionally catholic countries in Europe celebrate either All Saints’ Day (1st of November) or All Souls’ Day (2nd of November) or even both in some cases.
Some Austrians will leave bread, water and a lighted lamp on the table before going to sleep on Halloween night as they believe that these three things welcome the souls of their beloved dead which on this night can come back from the other world.
In the Czech Republic, chairs are placed by the fireplace on Halloween night. There will always be one chair per living family member and another for every spirit.
Estonian folktales make the 1st of November one of the creepiest days of the year, as it is the day when ghosts wander into churches and celebrate a mass with a ghost priest.
In France, and other European countries, people used to think that on Halloween night all the spirits of the dead would roam across our world. Traditionally, French bellmen would ring a bell and tell people that the spirits were about to arrive!
It is a German Halloween tradition (or superstition) to put all knives away on the night of October 31st to avoid the spirits from hurting the living, and vice-versa.
Did you know that Ireland is believed to be the birthplace of Halloween? This is why this day is celebrated as much as in the US! In rural areas bonfires are still lit and all Irish children dress up and go trick or treating!
A typical Halloween Irish pastry is the Barmbrack a sort of sweet bread with raisins in it. Traditionally, it was thought to work as a fortune cookie as it would have a small gift inside that would represent your future:
The Ring – you would wed within the year
The Stick – you would have an unhappy marriage
The Pea – you would not marry
The Cloth – you would have bad luck or would be poor
The Coin – you would have good fortune or be wealthy
In Italy All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are celebrated by remembering loved ones who have passed away. In some areas, children wake up on the morning of All Saints’ Day to find a gift from their ancestors.
As in Ireland, Italians also have a traditional cake with the shape of a bean which is called Beans of the Dead.
In the Netherlands (and Germany) children go trick-or-treating on the 11th of November which is Saint Martin’s Day. Children go door-knocking around their neighbourhood asking for treats in exchange of their lovely songs, one of them goes:
Elf November is de dag,
Dat mijn lichtje,
Dat mijn lichtje.
Elf November is de dag,
Dat mijn lichtje branden mag.
In Poland both All Saint’s Day and All Souls’ Day are celebrated and doors and windows are left open to welcome the spirits of the visiting souls.
Romanians celebrate a sort of Halloween night on November 30th which is Saint Andrew’s Day. On St. Andrew’s Eve ghosts are said to be roaming around and that is why many customs related to divination are associated with this night.
As many other traditionally Catholic countries, Spain celebrates the 1st of November (it is even a public holiday!) by visiting their beloved’s graveyards and bringing candles and flowers to commemorate them.
In the region of Catalonia however, families reunite on Halloween night to eat chestnuts, sweet potatoes and special pastries called Panallets which are associated only to the festivity of La Castanyada that takes place on the 31st of October each year.
This is one of the European countries that doesn’t celebrate Halloween. In Sweden, as in many other European countries, Halloween is actually still not very well known or celebrated. Instead they celebrate Alla Helgons Dag (Swedish for All Saint’s Day) by lighting candles for their beloved ones that have passed away. In the case of Sweden this festivity can last up to a week, usually from the 31st of October to the 6th of November.
Despite Ireland being the birthplace of Halloween, trick-or-treating can be traced back to England. On All Saint’s Day Eve (Halloween night), small soul cakes used to be given away. Families would gather and light candles in every room to guide souls around. This tradition was known as souling and back in the days children would go door-by-door singing songs and reciting prayers to the dead in order to receive the traditional soul cakes.
Do you live in any of these European countries that celebrate Halloween? How do you celebrate – do you have any of these traditions or have your own personal ones? Let us know in the comment section below!
Have a very spooky Halloween wherever you are!