A Look at Festivals Around the World That Celebrate the Dead

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A Look at Festivals Around the World That Celebrate the Dead
In the United States, Halloween is for costumes, candy, and haunted houses. The modern version of this holiday has become less about honoring (or fearing) spirits and more about playing a character for the day. In some cultures, there are unique holidays celebrated specifically to commemorate the dead.

Scroll through the slideshow for a look at these extraordinary festivals around the world that honor the dead.
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    A Look at Festivals Around the World That Celebrate the Dead
    In the United States, Halloween is for costumes, candy, and haunted houses. The modern version of this holiday has become less about honoring (or fearing) spirits and more about playing a character for the day. In some cultures, there are unique holidays celebrated specifically to commemorate the dead.

    Scroll through the slideshow for a look at these extraordinary festivals around the world that honor the departed. 

    Photo by Szymon Kochański/Flickr
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    1. Día De Los Muertos, Mexico
    Debatably the most famous celebration of the deceased, Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead festival, traces to the pre-Columbian era and spans from October 28 until November 2. The Day of the Dead is about remembering loved ones and honoring family members who have passed away.

    The country’s most vibrant celebrations take place in Mexico City and Oaxaca, where cemeteries and homes display altars adorned with yellow marigold and red terciopelo flowers, intricate sugar skulls, and papel picado, a colorful perforated paper engraved with skeleton designs.

    Photo by Greg Willis/Flickr
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    2. Hungry Ghost Festival, China
    The Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist commemoration, celebrated in China on the seventh month in the Chinese calendar. It is believed that spirits are able to roam the Earth throughout this month, and on the 15th night specifically, these spirits have the chance to visit their living descendants.

    Throughout “Ghost Month,” offerings are made to the deceased, traditional theater is performed, and people set places at tables for dead members of their family. After the festival, people light lanterns and float them in bodies of water to help lead spirits back to the underworld.

    Photo by grungemann/Flickr
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    3. Gai Jatra, Nepal
    Gai Jatra, also called the Festival of the Cows, is celebrated in August and September in Nepal. During the celebration, a procession of cows is marched through the streets of Kathmandu, led by family members who have lost a loved one within the last year. Cows, which are considered holy in Hinduism, are thought to be able to guide the recently deceased to the afterlife. Following the cow procession, participants dress in costume and dance in the city center.

    Gai Jatra is regarded as a celebration, meant to help people accept death as a reality of life and to help ease the passing of those who have died.

    Photo by Frances Ellen/Flickr
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    4. Obon Festival, Japan
    The Obon festival is a Japanese Buddhist holiday celebrated July 13-15 or August 13-15 (depending on the region in Japan), honoring the return of the spirits of deceased ancestors. People revisit their hometowns to tend their relatives’ graves, which are cleaned and decorated with flowers.

    There are Obon festivals all over Japan that often incorporate traditional dances and celebration. On the last night of Obon, people light candles and have bonfires to mark the departure of the ancestral spirits.

    Photo by autan/Flickr
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    5. Fête Gede, Haiti
    This annual voodoo festival in Haiti takes place throughout November, but the majority of celebrations occur during the beginning of the month. Voodoo believers converge on Port-au-Prince’s main cemetery to honor the Gede (a family of spirits with the powers of death and fertility), laying out gifts such as homemade beeswax candles, flowers and—to warm the Gede’s bones—bottles of rum stuffed with chile peppers.

    Dances, rituals, and costumes play a large part in this unique festival celebrating the dead.

    Photo by Billtacular/Flickr
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    6. Fiesta de las Ñatitas, Bolivia
    Bolivia’s Fiesta de las Ñatitas (Festival of the Skulls) is an ancient ritual among the indigenous Aymara people, honoring the special bond between the living and the deceased. 

    Ñatitas are exhumed human skulls that some Bolivians believe protect them from evil, help them achieve goals, and even work miracles. The skulls spend most of their time indoors, but are paraded in La Paz’s main public cemetery every year in early November, where they are decorated with flowers and pampered with cigarettes, coca leaves, and other treats.


    Photo by Szymon Kochański/Flickr
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    7. Chuseok, South Korea
    Chuseok is one of the largest and most widely celebrated holidays in South Korea. The primary reason for Chuseok, held on the fall equinox, is to honor ancestors and deceased relatives. However, the holiday is considered a general time for families to gather, reconnect, and enjoy great feasts. Traditionally, Chuseok has also allowed South Koreans to celebrate the autumn harvest after a season of hard work. 

    Chuseok is largely centered around the culture and history of South Korea. To honor the traditions that connect them to their roots, many families will visit their ancestors’ villages, perform rituals and ceremonies, and visit graves while wearing traditional garb. 

    Photo by Jake Brown/Flickr
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