All Souls’ Day Traditions Around the World

All Souls’ Day Traditions Around the World

No matter where you are in the world, the locals are bound to have an occasion in honor of the dead. And just as Filipinos tiptoe around graves and share ghost stories around candlelight in cemeteries, our friends in other countries have their own unique practices, too. Here are a few All Souls’ Day traditions from different parts of the globe.

All Souls’ Day Traditions from All Over the World

1. Spain

Much like the Philippines, Spain observes All Souls’ Day with lit candles and flower arrangements placed on tombs. Spanish bakeries are especially worth a visit around this time of year, though! One popular treat is the panellet, a bite-sized ball made of mashed sweet potatoes and ground almonds. Some varieties are coated in crunchy pine seeds before being fried. You can also find piles of huesos de santo or saints’ bones. Chew on these marzipan tubes and enjoy the egg-and-sugar cream filling!

  Macroiris (panellets)

Macroiris (panellets)

  Tamorlan on Wikimedia Commons (huesos de santo)

Tamorlan on Wikimedia Commons (huesos de santo)


2. Mexico

It feels like a fiesta, but Dia de los Muertos is Mexico’s take on All Souls’ Day! Families gather, women dress up as the costumed skeleton La Calavera Catrina, and people set up ofrendas or personal altars honoring the dead. Flame-colored Mexican marigolds and sugar skulls (calaveras de dulce) cover these bright ofrendas. You can eat the calaveras, which can even be chocolate- or tequila-flavored. And don’t be surprised if you smell burning resin from an altar, as the scent is said to drive evil spirits away.


  Lake Mead NRA Public Affairs on flickr (calaveras)

Lake Mead NRA Public Affairs on flickr (calaveras)

  Luisroj96 on Wikimedia Commons (ofrenda)

Luisroj96 on Wikimedia Commons (ofrenda)


3. Poland

Zaduszki, the Polish equivalent of All Souls’ Day, takes its name from the soul bread prepared for the occasion. Here, you gather the whole family (including the deceased) for dinner on November 1, setting out dishes such as buckwheat groats and a loaf of soul bread. The spirits will get to sip on vodka, too! After dinner, everyone heads to the graveyard to light candles and say prayers. You’ll see stands lined with little bags of miodek turecki, a caramel candy, and bagels on strings to keep the kids from getting cranky. Before you return home, take one last look at the whole cemetery--it’ll be glowing from the sheer number of burning candles that locals have laid out for the dead.

  Mateuszgdynia on Wikimedia Commons (Zaduszki)

Mateuszgdynia on Wikimedia Commons (Zaduszki)

4. Italy

Being in the same continent as Poland, Italy commemorates All Souls’ Day in a similar fashion. Families set extra places in case relatives’ ghosts want to eat dinner with them, and children in Sardinia collect cakes and nuts in exchange for prayers. Head south, though, and you’ll notice that the locals attend All Souls’ Day mass while bringing bread seasoned with chili. They’ll eat the bread later on. Ask them what the bread is for, and they’ll tell you that they’re actually providing relief to spirits in purgatory by taking some fiery punishment on their behalf.

5. Guatemala

If you find yourself in Guatemala on All Souls’ Day, you ought to do what a local does and head to Sumpango. Giant kites made of bamboo and tissue paper will dot the sky! Locals start preparing for the festival several months in advance, putting together masterpieces that measure up to 20 meters across. While watching the kites from the ground, families and friends throw a party in honor of the dead with food, drink, and lots of music.

  Maria Figueroa on flickr (Sumpango kite festival)

Maria Figueroa on flickr (Sumpango kite festival)

6. China

China’s All Souls’ Day falls on the calendar a bit earlier than other celebrations, as it marks the autumn harvest. The entire seventh month of the lunar calendar is set aside as Ghost Month, when the gates of hell open and the spirits of the dead freely roam about. Zhongyuanjie or the Hungry Ghost Festival takes place on the 15th day. Think your deceased relatives might need new clothes or a house in the afterlife? You can send them one by burning smaller versions made out of joss paper. Unlike the Qingming or Tomb-Sweeping Day, Zhongyuanjie honors all spirits, not just one’s ancestors.

  Brian Glucroft on    Isidor’s Fugue    (Zhongyuanjie)

Brian Glucroft on Isidor’s Fugue (Zhongyuanjie)

7. Japan

Have a summer kimono, or yukata? O-bon is a great opportunity to bring it out. All Souls’ Day for the Japanese also takes place halfway through the seventh month of the lunar calendar. During O-bon, locals dress up in yukata and form circles around wooden scaffolds. While musicians and singers perform on the scaffolds, everyone dances around to welcome the visiting dead. On the third and last day, most Japanese send off their dead relatives by setting paper lanterns afloat in a practice called toro nagashi. Kyoto takes the top spot for spectacle, though, lighting five giant bonfires on the nearby mountains. Three of the fires form Chinese characters while two of them form a boat and a shrine gate. Try capturing all five shapes in a single picture!

  Matt May on flickr (toro nagashi)

Matt May on flickr (toro nagashi)

  Sano Ukuii on Wikimedia Commons (Kyoto bonfire)

Sano Ukuii on Wikimedia Commons (Kyoto bonfire)

Try recalling this list while setting candles and flowers in the clan mausoleum this All Souls’ Day. It’ll be fun to imagine what the families on the other side of the world are doing. You might even wind up joining these traditions yourself in the future! For now, you can enjoy catching up with aunts and uncles or going on a staycation right here in the city.

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