Although many English-speaking countries spend October waiting for the thrill of Halloween, the month is also marked by a host of other traditions around the world – from one-day holidays to full-on festivals.
While some, like Oktoberfest, share the carnivalesque tone of Halloween, many highlight religious customs or pay homage to local traditions. Here is a non-exhaustive overview of October traditions around the world:
A young girl takes a look at the jack-o’-lanterns at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, RI on October 8, 2012.(Charles Krupa/AP Photo)
The holiday now known as Halloween originated from the Celtic festival Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season. In the eighth century AD, the Catholic Church designated November 1 as All Saints’ Day, and the eve eventually became All Hallows Eve or Halloween. Bonfires, costumes, and a connection between the lands of the living and the dead are among the ideas that have survived the catholization of the holiday.
Dated October 21, 2018, this photo collage shows (left to right, top) Arlette Ortiz, Jessica Esquivias, Alejandria Copado and Jossy Javier, and (left to right, bottom) Victoria Garcia, Donovan Sanchez, Jimmy Roman and Monica Molina portraying “Catrina”, a Mexican depiction of death, before Catrinas’ march in Mexico City.(Omar Torres/AFP via Getty Images)
El Día De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, originated in Mexico. Although celebrations in many regions begin on October 31 and preparations can take weeks, most festivities take place on November 1 and 2. holidays. With celebrations that often include candy skulls and painted faces, the party has something for all ages. However, the heart of the tradition goes beyond tricks and treats. El Día de Los Muertos is rooted in the remembrance and commemoration of loved ones, notably through the creation of altars and “ofrendas”, or offerings, made in their honor in homes or in cemeteries.
The holiday recalls Aztec beliefs about the afterlife, which after the 16th century were married to Spanish Catholicism, hence the overlap with All Saints Day.
Houses decorated with lanterns and lights are seen during Diwali in Mumbai, India, November 13, 2020.(Rafiq Maqbool/AP Photo)
Diwali, which translates from Hindi as “Festival of Lights”, is a five-day festival celebrated from late October to early November, according to the Hindu lunar calendar, with this year’s festival starting on October 24. Although it is observed by four of India’s major religious groups – Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists – it has a slightly different meaning for each, and it is celebrated across much of South Asia. For Hindus, for example, Diwali is associated with various legends, in particular the return of Lord Rama and his wife Sita to the ancient Indian city of Ayodhya, which is celebrated with firecrackers, and the honoring of deities such as Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth.
However, all celebrations are marked by family visits, exchange of gifts, fireworks and diyas, terracotta lamps lit during rituals and celebrations.
Women raise glasses of beer during the opening of the 185th “Oktoberfest” beer festival in Munich, Germany, September 22, 2018.(Matthias Schrader/AP Photo)
Despite its name, Oktoberfest straddles September and October, with this year’s festival opening on September 17 and ending on October 3. Well known for its promotion of beer – of which 5.6 million liters were consumed this year alone – the festival, now in its 187th year, also celebrates the culture of Bavaria, the German state where the festivities take place.
Bavarians in traditional costume and millions of tourists invade the festival grounds, led by the “Münchner Kindl” (or “Child of Munich”), the mascot of the city of Munich. Although his official residence is in Munich, Germany, celebrations have erupted across the globe – from Argentina to Australia to the United States.
Buddhist monks line up for lunch during the Pchum Ben (Death Day) festival at a pagoda in Phnom Penh on September 13, 2022.(Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP via Getty Images)
Pchum Ben marks the final day of a 15-day festival of the same name in Cambodia. Although this year’s festivities took place on September 25, they vary from year to year from mid-September to mid-October.
Similar to Día de Los Muertos, this tradition also has emphasizes the remembrance and veneration of ancestors, although it is also associated with Buddhist beliefs around karma and incorporates Buddhist temples and monks. In the Khmer language, “pchum” means to gather and “ben” a ball of food, especially rice, for observers to offer food offerings to their deceased loved ones and celebrate the end of Buddhist Lent, Vassa.
Orthodox Jewish men from the Kiryat Sanz Hasidic sect pray near the Mediterranean Sea and take part in a ceremony ahead of Yom Kippur on October 3, 2022.(Ariel Schalit/AP Photo)
Yom Kippur is considered Judaism’s holiest holiday and, like the aforementioned traditions, its date is variable, falling between late September and mid-October, or 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. As the “Sabbath of Sabbaths”, Jewish observers fast from sundown to sundown, pray and avoid work as a means of atoning and purifying. After all, “Yom Kippur” means Day of Atonement in Hebrew.
After sunset on the second day, the fast is broken with a large festive meal.