Halloween has its roots in Celtic territory, which includes modern-day Ireland, Scotland, and parts of surrounding countries. But it has spread to most of the rest of the world. This is due in part to influence from American pop culture.
The Irish still consider Halloween a significant cultural event. They celebrate by dressing up in costume and putting on fireworks displays. Children go trick-or-treating and attend parties.
In Scotland, Halloween is also widely celebrated. Children participate in an activity similar to trick-or-treating, but there it is known as guising. There has been a movement, however, toward reinstating more traditional activities to preserve the holiday's heritage.
Wales is another country that actively celebrates Halloween. However, they call it “Nos Calan Gaeaf,” which means the beginning of the new winter. Their traditions are similar to those adhered to during the days of Samhain.
Halloween made its way to the United States and Canada in the 19th century by way of Irish and Scottish immigrants. At first, the immigrants used the holiday to celebrate their heritage. But others in the two countries eventually picked up some of the customs, and they began to play pranks on Halloween night. In the early 20th century, children began to go trick-or-treating, and it became a widespread activity in the 1930s.
China and Japan each have their own unique Halloween-type celebrations. In China, they celebrate Teng Chieh. Traditions include placing food and water in front of pictures of the deceased and lighting lanterns to guide their spirits home. In Japan, the Obon Festival celebrates the spirits of the deceased. Activities include a feast of holiday foods and setting lanterns afloat in rivers.
England did not start actively celebrating Halloween until the late 20th century. But in northern parts of the country, Mischief Night has long been celebrated on October 30th. This holiday involves children playing tricks on adults. Some of the tricks are harmless, while others constitute vandalism.
In Mexico, Halloween didn't catch on until the 1960s. There, trick-or-treating is the primary activity of the day. Halloween in Mexico is followed by All Saints' Day, and then the two-day celebration of Dia de los Muertos, which translates to “Day of the Dead.”
Halloween only recently caught on in Australia and New Zealand. Trick-or-treating is not exceedingly common, but it does occur. Most celebrations consist of horror film festivals and private parties.
In the Netherlands, Germany and Australia, trick-or-treating is quite uncommon. This is due to a similar tradition carried out on St. Martin's Day. But people in these countries have recently begun to celebrate by dressing in costume and having parties and parades.
In some countries, religious groups have worked to prevent Halloween from becoming a widely celebrated holiday. They feel that it contradicts their beliefs or interferes with other holidays that are based on their religion. In other countries, it just hasn't caught on due to similar holidays or disinterest. Countries in which Halloween is seldom celebrated include Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, France, Morocco and Bulgaria.