Most of the world celebrates some form of Halloween like festival around the same time, they use it as a chance to honour those who have passed, help lingering spirits move on and of course, eat.
The Celts in Ireland honoured the dead around the harvest time between the 31st and 2nd of November with a variety of rituals, offerings and celebrations. They would enjoy feasts from the autumn harvest including boxty pancakes, a form of potato cake often made using the newly harvested potatoes and topped with sugar. The table was also laid with hearty colcannon – a buttery mash made with kale or cabbage and barmbrack, a dense fruitcake with various objects baked inside: a pea which predicts you would not marry that year, a stick told of an unhappy marriage, a piece of cloth that predicted bad luck, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) that predicted good fortune and lastly a ring that predicted the person would be wed within the year.
During the Middle Ages people in England would bake soul cakes to give to visitors in exchange of a promise to say a prayer for their dead ancestors, this is often thought to be the origin of modern day trick-or-treat.
Similar to the amaretti biscuit the fave dei morti (beans of the dead) are delicate almond treat that are baked for November 2nd – the day of the commemoration of the dead or Il Giorno dei Morti. On the same day people decorate the graves of loved ones with flowers and candles while young men use this day to send engagement rings to their sweethearts along with a small box of the bean shaped biscuits. Children traditionally recieve gifts on this day so long as they have respected their elders and prayed for the departed; they are rewarded with a beautifully crafted candy doll.
Dia De Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a time to celebrate the lives of ancestors, in recent years it has become somewhat of an international phenomenon with the extravagant costumes and make up. During the celebration families bake pan de muerto, a soft sweet bread that is normally eaten at the grave of loved ones or placed on an alter to honour the dead.
The Obon festival held at different times of the year depending on which region of Japan you’re in, is a Buddhist festival to honour the dead. During the festival a whole host of food is traditionally made and sold by street vendors to those celebrating. Takoyaki, a popular snack food made from a light pancake batter is filled with a small piece of cooked octopus (tako) and pan fried. Mitarashi dango are small balls of dense rice cake similar to the famous mochi. They are made of glutinous rice flour and skewered on a bamboo stick then served with a sweet soy sauce glaze. Uji-kintoki is shaved ice topped with kintoki (sweet red beans) and garnished with rennyu (a type of sweetened condensed milk) and a finally sweet green tea syrup (uji).
A three day harvest festival known as Chuseok is celebrated during the 8th month of the lunar calendar – around the Autumn Equinox. Traditionally Koreans will visit their ancestral hometowns and share a feast of Korean traditional food which includes songpyeon, a rice cake stuffed with sesame seeds, black beans, mung beans, cinnamon, pine nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, jujube, and honey. The buns are steamed over a layer of pine-needles which contributes to the songpyeon’s aromatic fragrance and taste. Another traditional food is hangwa; made with rice flour, honey, fruit, and roots these artistically decorated food that is a little like a cookie. Edible natural ingredients are added to create various colours, flavours, and tastes. Because of its decoration and nutrition, Koreans eat them on most special occasions including weddings and birthday parties.
With two festivals celebrating their ancestors throughout the year the Chinese have many traditions. There is Qingming, a memorial type day and national day that is celebrated in both mainland China and Hong Kong, it is celebrated at the beginning of April. During the holiday qingtuan are made, these are green dumplings made of glutinous rice and barley grass and filled with sweet red bean paste.
The other festival is Yu Lan Jie or Hungry Ghost Festival, it is a Buddhist festival celebrated in the seventh month of the lunar calendar. During this time people believe that ghosts and spirits return from the lower realm. This festival is less about the living honouring the dead and more about the dead visiting the living. Elaborate meals are served to the empty seats of the dining table for each of the deceased ancestors – treating the deceased as if they are still living, it is more about the food offerings for them than the living enjoying a feast.
The tradition of trick-or-treating in America has spread across the world with most countries now celebrating Halloween with Jack-o-Lanterns, sweets and costumes. Settled by colonies from the UK and Ireland many of the traditions were brought across which have evolved into the Halloween we all know today. In the 21st century candy corn and candy or caramel apples are typical treats for the time of year.