Pumpkins, ghosts and… cheese graters!? Wacky worldwide Halloween traditions


Horror stories, pumpkins, witches, an ABSURD amount of sweets, Alice Cooper… what’s not to like about Halloween?! We at busuu take this frightening festival very seriously. Last year it was pineapple carving; this year I decided to put on my special witch outfit and gather the spookiest stories I could from around the world. Where best to start? Our international Education Team!

But where does Halloween actually come from?

Halloween is a festival that combines history, tradition and popular culture. To give you a bit of background, the name “Halloween” comes from ‘All Hallow’s Evening’. It originated in the Celtic areas of Britain before being popularised by the USA. Nowadays, many countries around the world celebrate it in their own way.

Interesting! And how do different countries celebrate it?

Well, chatting to Luciano from Italy, he told me about the Fiesta Dalis Muars. This festival is celebrated on 31st October, when the sun sets behind the mountains surrounding Ampezzo. How dreamy! In Sicily, people hide cheese graters on the night of November 1st because in the past it was said that the dead would come and grate off the feet of those who misbehaved! Like in other countries, in Italy children get sweets on Halloween. Some even have creepy names like ossu de mottu (bone of the dead)!

Any more weird traditions?

Next, I sat with Eloy from Galicia (Spain) to cast the queimada spell. Queimada is a powerful potion made of oruxo (a spirit distilled from wine and aromatized with herbs or coffee) to scare off bad spirits. He also told me about O Samaín, a Celtic festival that celebrates the end of the harvest season. In Galicia it was tradition to leave a fire burning through the night so the spirits of the dead could come and warm themselves up.

Paula, also from Spain, told me about the Magosto or Castañada festivals that are celebrated around the time of Halloween. During these festivals, people pay homage to the dead. I’m from Spain too, so we also talked about my favourite Spanish sweets, buñuelos. These are fried dough balls that we eat around All Saints’ Day. My grandma used to tell me that every time you eat a buñuelo you save a soul from purgatory! Of course I was happy to help!

Don’t people like to dress up too?

Of course! I’m a bit of a goth queen on the best of days, but today I’m actually wearing my special witch outfit because on Halloween people LOVE to dress up. It is said that people wore costumes to disguise themselves so that the souls seeking revenge wouldn’t be able to recognise them. Today’s favourite costumes derive from gothic imagery and literature, classic monsters, horror and sci-fi films and even some supernatural creatures like the Kardashians.

Trick or treat?

Emma from the UK told me about “trick-or-treating”. This is when children dress up and go knocking on people’s doors asking the question “Trick or treat?”. You can either give them a treat of sweets or they’ll play a trick on you!

What about pumpkins? 

Traditionally, jack-o’-lanterns were carved from pumpkins and turnips to scare off evil spirits. These days, people just do this for fun…and bake delicious pumpkin-based cakes and Halloween treats too! I mentioned before that at busuu we carve pineapples instead of pumpkins. That’s because we like to do it the tropical way… oh and make piña coladas afterwards…

All sounds like a lot of fun…

It sure is! Anyway that’s enough from me, but before I finish telling you about all these spooky traditions, I thought I’d leave you with a little story: legend has it that if you use a grammatical tense incorrectly three times, busuu’s Education Team will appear in the middle of the night to haunt you for your bad grammar. So you’d better watch out! Mwhahahaha!!!!

Senior Spanish Language Expert Elena is from Salamanca, Spain but currently lives in London. She studied English Literature and Linguistics in her home town, then later studied to become a Spanish teacher at the Instituto Cervantes. She loves bread and baking, and is mad about cats and anything shiny!


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