Halloween is around the corner. The skeletons are hung in the windows, and the jack-o-lanterns are smiling menacingly through their toothless mouths. Some people embrace the macabre for the festivities, while others avoid it like they would Christmas. For children, however, there is no disputing the exciting anticipation that builds with the promise of a mountain of candy and dressing up as their favorite heroes and princesses.
It’s no surprise that many countries around the world have adopted the North American version of Halloween. However, there are also other traditions, both similar to and entirely different from the act of trick-or-treating, that are quite unfamiliar.
Here are 10 interesting trick-or-treat-like traditions from around the world
Translated as “Noisy Pot,” Rummelpott takes place in the northern parts of Germany and Denmark, where people celebrate the new year slightly differently than the rest of us (i.e., not getting drunk and making empty promises). In the chilly winter of the end of December, children dress up in costumes and masks, hoping that the spirits of the previous year will not recognize them and attempt to follow them into the new year by clinging to them. Much like the embarrassments most make on New Year’s Eve that follow them their whole life.
A tradition under threat from the more commercialized Halloween, groups of children will pass from door to door singing folk songs and clanging their Rummelpott. These are traditionally made from a pig’s bladder. The children then ask for candy, food, coins, or any tokens of luck the gracious neighbor might bestow (horseshoe, chimney sweeper, toadstool, or clover figurines).
Guising (or “galoshin”), meaning to dress up as someone or something else, is a unique Scottish tradition dating back to the 16th century. Similar to trick or treating, children would dress up as evil spirits in an attempt to disguise themselves among the spirits and blend in with the evil that abounded that night.
Children arriving at a house disguised as evil would be required to perform a party trick of sorts—a dance, a song, or recite a poem—before an offering of a treat is made which would aid in their protection against the malicious spirits of the eve.
Interestingly, among the snacks that were gifted were fruit and nuts, and in keeping with the times, money or sweets, but never pork pastry (because who doesn’t love a cold pastry with their sugar rush?). The Witchcraft Act of 1735 expressly forbade the consumption of pork and pastry during this hallowed night, an act that was later repealed. Children may now enjoy their pork pies as they please.
A Christmas tradition straight from the folklore of Germany (later making its way to North America), this unique celebration is based on Belsnickle, a companion figure to Sinter Claus and a more stern equivalent of the ever-jolly Saint Nicolas. Dressed in fur and carrying a small whip made from wood, he would reward good behavior and punish the bad, always knowing what mischief children got up to.
What makes Belsnickling such an otherworldly event is that it’s usually done by adults, dressing up as the Belsnickle and visiting their neighbors who might be tasked to guess the face behind the mask. The real idea behind the visit, however, was to simply have a drink with your fellow townsfolk, even though the images of these adults dressed in homemade masks might send shudders down the modern spine.
Newfoundland, Canada. Home to another unique and somewhat bizarre tradition of house-hopping, known as mummering. The word mummering can be traced to the ancient Greek word Momus, which relates to miming, masking, or frolicking. A personification of satire.
In the annual Mummers parade, people would dress up in full disguise and head out to town, popping by for what they call a mug-up or a kitchen party. Found particularly in rural communities, the mummers are invited in for food and drink, and after staggering around the house, occupants would have to guess the mummer’s identities.
Originally an English tradition, the modern rendition requires participants to dress in outlandish garb and has become somewhat of a new representation of the tradition for the public, allowing those who choose to partake to connect with strangers.
A celebration that goes hand in hand with Los Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November, is the Mexican-flavored version of Halloween, known as Mi Cavalerita.
In celebration of the departed, children dressed as little skull people scuttle from house to house, and instead of asking “trick-or-treat,” they might ask something along the lines of “Me da mi calaverita?” or “Can you give me a little skull?” Candy skulls, that is.
There is also a song involved that asks for their calaverita to be fed. Traditionally, they might be rewarded for their song with food and snacks such as fresh fruits and small tamales. But there are also the sugary skulls that can leave the children’s “cavaleras” duly fed.
An old tradition began in tragic circumstances after the great earthquake of 1755 that left the city of Lisbon in ruins. After the tragedy ruined the city, there was a natural shortage of essential supplies, prompting desperate, hungry people to go from door to door begging for scraps in the name of God. And a new tradition was born.
Pão-por-Deus, meaning bread for God, is a tradition with its roots firmly in a natural disaster. However, that has morphed into something not entirely dissimilar from Halloween as we know it. Although the custom is slowly dying out in the cities, there are still towns celebrating the 1st of November (All Saint’s Day) by going door to door asking for food or treats. This tradition involves no costumes and scare-frights and takes place in the light of day.
The tradition has been modernized to be exclusively for children. Instead of bread, which would be marvelous if we were to be honest, they receive cakes, sweets, and cash.
4 Saint Martins
We give you a celebration that does not include dressing up and has no threat of blackmail should you not receive sweets, but it is a door-to-door situation nonetheless. After Halloween, children in Germany have almost two weeks off to reset their guts from all the preservatives and survive withdrawal from a sugar high before the next opportunity arises for copious amounts of candy.
On November 11 each year, a procession of children with lanterns takes part in the annual Saint Martin’s Day parade. Children, usually under the age of ten (accompanied by adults, of course), participate in a 4,000-strong procession that begins as darkness falls.
Martinssingen, as it is called, involves a door-to-door mission whereby the children sing Lantern songs in exchange for cookies called Weckmann or a Stutenkerl. It ends like all processions should—a glorious bonfire known as the Martinsfeuer.
3 Easter Witches
Although Sweden does not specifically celebrate Christian holidays, Easter lasts five days and has become a chance to spend time with loved ones rather than a religious celebration. On Maundy Thursday, or Skärtorsdagen in Swedish, children dress up as Easter witches and go around knocking on doors to wish people happy Easter. Obviously, as always, there is candy involved.
The story of the witches, however, is quite interesting. Thought to be the agents of Satan himself, the witches are believed to fly to a location known as Blåkulla to commune with the infernal one on the witch’s sabbaths (also on Easter). They would travel on brooms, cows, poles, or even other people as long as they were prepared with a lathering of oil stored in a set of horns provided by the devil himself.
To ward off these witches, they would burn large fires, something that has withstood the test of time, along with the modern celebrations involving face paint, headscarves, aprons, and shawls to cover the faces of the children as they zoom around as witches.
2 Hoya Hoye
During the entire month of August, customary gatherings and expressions of faith all across Ethiopia are held as Buhe is celebrated. Marked by the day Jesus was transfigured on Mount Tabor, celebrations are carried out by young men and boys in spectacular fashion.
On the particular day known as hoya hoye, the young ones make their way to homes in their neighborhoods, carrying bouquets, reciting special poems to praise households, and expressing good wishes and faith for the upcoming Ethiopian New Year. They wish barren women would fall pregnant and the poor would be granted health.
It’s tradition for the leader to hold a stick instrument and hit the ground as he is followed in a rhythmic song. After the group has sung their praises, in a token of appreciation, they are rewarded with homemade bread or sometimes money.
1 Ramadan Caroling
Although entirely unrelated, one could almost be forgiven for thinking that Ramadan caroling, known as Haq Al Laila, is a combination of two Western holidays in the form of Christmas and Halloween.
During the month of Ramadan, in the lead-up to iftar, Central Asian inhabitants might be treated to a visit from local children who sing songs filled with positivity and energy in exchange for treats or cash. Dressed in vibrant traditional garb, they spread goodwill in an act some people believe symbolizes strong social bonds and familial values.