What's the most popular holiday in October? In the United States that's got to be Halloween. If you take a bigger view, however, you'll find people in different parts of the world holding many different kinds of parties. They're celebrating the harvest, the new year, or the anniversary of an important occasion. If you'd like an excuse for an extra party over the next couple of weeks, here are some celebrations going on around the world.
Autumn is when many people celebrate another season of farming and food crops. Peoples all over the world hold festivals to celebrate the harvest. They give thanks for the food they have grown. They sing, dance, and play games to mark the end of the hot summer.
There is no set day for the harvest celebration in Ukraine in Eastern Europe. Communities there celebrate when the crops have been gathered. The festival usually happens on a Saturday in October. People dress in bright clothes that are hand-embroidered with colorful threads. Often the celebration begins with a parade to an exhibition site.
Farmers display the best of their crops and animals. Children play tug of war. Teams play soccer, volleyball, and basketball. Singers, dancers, and comedians perform in the evening. Everyone celebrates the gathering of food for the winter and the end of long, hot days working in the fields to bring in the crops.
Diwali is called the Festival of Lights in India. It's as important to Hindus as Christmas is to Christians. Sikhs, members of another Indian religion, also celebrate this holiday. It lasts up to five days. People have different traditions around the country, but the theme is always the same: good conquering evil. People place small lamps or candles in their windows and doorways. Traditional pottery oil lamps (divas) are placed on small rafts, and girls set them floating down a river. For Hindus it marks the beginning of the new year, and many honor Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. They clean their houses and wear new clothes. They send greeting cards wishing each other "Happy Diwali and a Prosperous New Year."
Samhain is Irish for "summer's end." (Many pronounce it "soh-WEEN," but the pronunciation varies widely by region.) Samhain was a festival of the Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, Britain, and northern France. Samhain is thought to be the Celtic new year's day, a time of transition between the old and new. Some believed that the spirits of the dead roamed the earth on the night before the new year. The witches, ghosts, and goblins of our Halloween come from this tradition (see sidebar).
Samhain was also a harvest festival, so people honored the dead with offerings of fruits and vegetables. The custom of bobbing for apples was introduced by the Romans after they conquered Britain in AD 43. The Romans bobbed for apples during their festival dedicated to Pomona, the goddess of fruit, which they held Nov. 1.
In the 800s, Christians tried to change the holiday. They renamed it All Saints' Day or All Hallows. This is the modern name of the Nov. 1 holiday. Oct. 31 then became All Hallows' Eve and later, Halloween.
The town of Luang Prabang in Laos holds a three-day festival near the end of October. The first day includes boat races on the river, followed by a big party and a dance. The next day, townspeople bring offerings of food to local Buddhist monks. On the final night, when the moon is full, each of the many Buddhist temples prepares a boat covered with candles. The boats are launched down the Mekong River, along with candle lanterns made by the townspeople. The whole river is illuminated.
Puno is a town in southern Peru that throws a great birthday party. Legends say that the first Inca king and queen were born on Lake Titicaca on Nov. 5. The celebration starts on the island of Titicaca. Indians dressed up as the first Incas are rowed to the shore of the lake at Puno. People in colorful costumes wait on the shore with music and dancing. Special folk dancers perform the Diablada, or Dance of the Devil. They try to appear as horrible as possible to scare children, just as many trick-or-treaters try to look scary on Halloween.
Fireworks and bonfires light up the night during Bonfire Night in Britain. It's also called Guy Fawkes Night, after a man who was accused of trying to blow up the British Houses of Parliament in 1605. On Nov. 5, children make effigies (models) of Guy Fawkes using old clothes stuffed with straw. They set them up on the sidewalk and ask passersby for "a penny for the Guy." This British tradition is spreading to France now.
Autumn is a time for celebrations worldwide. Because Americans came here from many different countries, you might not have to look very far to find someone who celebrates a holiday popular in another country. You might even be invited to join in the celebration.
• Learn more about the history of Halloween by visiting The History Channel website. It is located at: www.historychannel.com/exhibits/halloween/hallowmas.html.
The trick-or-treat tradition probably has its roots in England. During All Saints Day (Nov. 1), the poor would ask for food from families. Eventually, children started going from door to door in their neighborhoods to solicit food or coins.
Wearing costumes was a different tradition. In parts of Europe hundreds of years ago, some people feared that ghosts walked around on All Hallow's Eve (Oct. 31). If superstitious people left their homes after dark that night, they wore masks. That way, they figured, the ghosts would think they were fellow spirits and would leave them alone.
When these traditions arrived in America with immigrant families, they combined and changed. In the 1800s, American adults dressed up in costumes and went house to house asking for food or money.
By the 1900s, this was becoming a children's activity. Kids played pranks on their neighbors to make it appear that ghosts had visited in the night. They tipped over outhouses or took buggies apart and reassembled them on barn roofs.
The "prank" aspect decreased after World War II. By the 1950s, children were knocking on neighbors' doors and asking for a treat. In return they wouldn't pull any pranks at that house. (That's why you say "Trick or treat!") The custom has spread to England, where children go house to house and ask, "Anything for Halloween?"
Fireworks are a common way to celebrate Halloween in Canada, and disguises and tricks are part of Halloween in much of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. For a good bag of candy, however, the best place for kids' trick-or-treating is in the United States.