Not many U.S. holidays celebrate our ancestors or the spirit world. Halloween and Día de los Muertos are two occasions to do so in the United States, but around the world there are many more festivals and holidays for commemorating the dead.
Costa Ricans began celebrating Día de las Mascaradas — Masquerades Day — after colonization influenced the native culture. The Spanish colonists brought the customs of European medieval festivals and the "gigantes y cabezudos," or giants and bigheads. The gigantes y cabezudos were elaborately and ornately made of papier-mache, and they are still fashioned this way in Costa Rica.
Towns stage parades with the costumed characters teetering about with their larger-than-life heads. Traditionally, costumes draw their inspiration from Costa Rican mythical creatures, but many share the Halloween spirit of making fun of politicians, athletes and other celebrities.
In 1997, the Costa Rican government declared October 31 as Día de las Mascaradas, according to Tania Robles, an anthropologist and artist with the Costa Rican Ministry of Culture and Youth.
"In Costa Rica, there is an important influence from [U.S.] culture, so Halloween was an extended celebration at the time," Robles said by email from Costa Rica. Defining the date of celebration, she added, was "intended to be the beginning of the return to the local traditions."
Near the end of summer, the Chinese celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festival, when it is believed that the gates to the spirit world open and ghosts scour the earth for offerings. Families place the offerings — usually food and paper made to look like money or personal items — on an altar outside their home. The paper items are then burned to send them into the spirit world. Additional offerings are also burned to please the spirits of those who don't have living relatives.
In nearby Nepal, there are several holidays similar to Halloween in the United States. Tihar, the festival of lights, is held each year in late autumn. Children dress up, walk door-to-door and perform for their neighbors, who give them candy and money.
Families place lights around their homes and celebrate animals, such as crows and cows, that are culturally important. Dogs, for example, are given floral garlands and red tikas, or marks, on their brows as a sign of admiration.
During Gai Jatra, another Nepali holiday, families bring cows into the streets to commemorate the spirits of their deceased loved ones. Cows are sacred in Nepal, as well as in other countries such as India, and represent the deep respect families have for their ancestors and gods.
While the holiday is about remembering the dead, there's a lot of fun to be had during the festivities.
"Recently, it has become a festival where you can make people laugh, you have satires, comedy shows [and] festivals," said Santosh Lamichhane, the president of the Nepali American Friendship Association.
These holidays, full of lights and memories of loved ones, make the spirit world a little less spooky. Whether you decide to celebrate Halloween, Día de los Muertos or another otherworldly holiday, there are plenty of ways to keep the spirit alive this fall.