16 Macabre Cultural Festivals in History that Make Halloween Look Like Child's Play
16 Macabre Cultural Festivals in History that Make Halloween Look Like Child’s Play

16 Macabre Cultural Festivals in History that Make Halloween Look Like Child’s Play

Trista - October 25, 2018

16 Macabre Cultural Festivals in History that Make Halloween Look Like Child’s Play
Children in traditional Gai Jatra attire. Wikimedia.

13. Nepal – Gai Jatra

Gai Jatra, meaning festival of cows in Nepali, is a festival celebrated by the Newar people in Nepal. The festival is a Hindu practice mainly followed in the Kathmandu region of Nepal. Different cities in Nepal have different variations on the celebrations, but all support the same core belief focusing around departed ancestors and the Hindi death deity Yamaraj.
In Kathmandu, Gai Jatra participants lead cows on a ceremonial procession throughout the city. For those who cannot afford or find a cow, a young man dressed as a cow is used. Cows are a highly venerated animal in Hinduism, and it is believed that ancestors will follow the cows and thus their passage to heaven will be eased by having a guide.

Other elements of the festival, which occurs during August, includes the families of the recently deceased going door to door and asking neighbors to join their procession. This ritual was believed to promote harmony and unity among neighbors. Feasts are also undertaken to acknowledge the end of the hardest labors of the year for farmers and fishers. In some cities, men dress as women, and everyone wears funny attire and perform a traditional dance known as Ghinta Gisi. The dance is performed as part of a procession of chariots bearing imagery of the dead.

16 Macabre Cultural Festivals in History that Make Halloween Look Like Child’s Play
A traditional feast for Chuseok. Culture Trip.

14. South Korea – Chuseok

The South Korean festival of Chuseok is a blend of elements that we would recognize as coming from Thanksgiving and Halloween celebrations. It is celebrated in the eighth month of the lunar calendar and signals the end of the harvest season. It is also a thanksgiving celebration, where Koreans return to their hometowns and pay respect to ancestors both living and dead.

Chuseok translates to “autumn eve” and begins on the 14th day of the eighth lunar month and ends on the 16th day of the same month. It typically falls around the autumnal equinox. The two major components of the festival are, in Korean, Charye, and Seongmyo. Charye is a memorial service held in one’s home to honor their ancestors. Seongmyo is a visit to the ancestral graves of one’s family.

Traditional foods also play a significant role in Chuseok with songpyeon, a traditional rice cake, being a staple food during the festival. Gifts are also exchanged during Chuseok, a tradition which started in the middle of the 20th century. The gift exchanges began with necessary daily items such as soap, coffee and other staples that were scarce during the economically troubled period. However, as South Korea’s economy has developed the gift giving has become more lavish.

16 Macabre Cultural Festivals in History that Make Halloween Look Like Child’s Play
Fête Ghede offerings and flowers. L’Union Suite.

15. Haiti – Fête Ghede

Fête Ghede, Fet Gede, or simply Ghede (pronounced GED-day) is a Vodou or voodoo, which is a holiday celebrated on All Saint’s Day in Haiti. In the Creole French of Haiti, Fet Gede means festival of the sacred dead. While it is celebrated in the numerous Christian churches through Haiti, it is mostly a festival of Indigenous African traditions that were brought to Haiti with the slave trade.

Fet Gede is a celebration of the lwa or loa of death. Loa are the spirits or deities in the Vodou tradition. Chief among the loa celebrated during Fet Gede are Papa Gede, believed to be the first man who ever died and guardian of the crossroads between life and death, and Baron Samedi, god of the dead.

Celebrations include pilgrimages to the believed grade of Papa Gede, visiting cemeteries to honor the dead, and creating altars with gifts to the ancestors. Drumming, dancing, laughing and singing with such volume as to raise the dead is another part of the celebration, which is aided by the liberal use of alcohol. The loa hold a great deal of respect from the people of Haiti, as their spirits are believed to have helped in the successful slave rebellion that saw the end of slavery in Haiti.

16 Macabre Cultural Festivals in History that Make Halloween Look Like Child’s Play
A Hungry Ghost Festival bonfire. TripSavvy/Getty.

16. China – The Hungry Ghost Festival

The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated throughout China and Hong Kong for an entire month, starting from the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The festival is typically celebrated through mid-to-late August and early September. The first day of the celebration is known as Ghost Day, while the entire seventh month of the lunar calendar is known as Ghost Month. During the festival, the living is expected to pay respect to the dead, and the dead are believed to visit those still living.

Ritual activities during the festival include offerings of food, burning incense and burning joss paper, a traditional Chinese paper meant for offerings. Other traditions involve burning paper mache representations of everyday items as well as buying and releasing paper boats or lanterns. The release of lanterns containing flames is believed to guide the souls of the ancestors to the afterlife.

Large, complicated vegetarian meals are traditional during the festival, with portions left aside for the consumption of ancestral spirits visiting the family. The burning of both the joss paper and the representation of everyday items is believed to send those items to the souls in the afterlife in a form that is useful to them. Both Buddhists and Taoists celebrate the festival.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“13 photos of Halloween celebrations around the world” Edith Hancock, Business Insider. October 2016.

“Beyond Halloween: 9 Macabre Festivals Around the World” Cynthia Drescher, Condé Nast Traveler. October 2015.

“Why Des Moines has Beggars’ Night” Kelsey Batschelet, Des Moines Register. October 2015.

“10 Things We Learned about Fet Gede “Haitian Day of The Dead”‘ L’Union Suite Staff. October 2017.

“12 Halloween Traditions From Around the World” Rudie Obias, Mental Floss. October 2017.

“La Befana: The Christmas Witch Italian Children Love” Grand Voyage Italy Staff. December 2016.

Chuseok: Korean Thanksgiving Day. Asia Society staff. n.d.

“The Story of the Gai Jatra Festival” Inside Nepal staff. April 2018.