Halloween

Halloween’s become tremendously popular in the US as a scary dress-up holiday, but it started as All Hallows’ Eve, a Christian holiday dedicated to honoring the saints, martyrs, and the dead. While the holiday is a Christian one, its origins are in Gaelic pagan harvest rituals. (via, via, via)

Wilder Mann

Wilder Mann isn’t a specific holiday but rather a collection of photos by French photographer Charles Fréger of costumes worn in a number of tribal European pagan rituals. One of the ubiquitous characters in these rituals is the wild man (“Wilder Mann” in German) who’s half man, half animal. It goes to show that even though much of Europe has globalized, there are still pockets of ancient paganism being practiced on the continent. (via, via, via, via)

Day of the Dead


Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos falls at the same time as Halloween and, like Halloween, is actually a fusion of the Christian All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day with indigenous religious traditions. Dia de los Muertos began as an Aztec holiday in honor of the goddess Mictecacihuatl and blended with Christian traditions during the European colonization of the country. The holiday is probably best known outside of Mexico for its colorful and spectacularly spooky aesthetic. (via, via, via)

Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason, and plot,” the rhyme goes in England. It commemorates the attempt and failure of a group of Catholic radicals to blow up the English Houses of Parliament. A holiday sprang up around the ritual burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes, the most memorable member of the group. In the past it had distinct anti-Catholic undertones, and sometimes effigies of the pope were burned instead of Fawkes, but now it’s usually celebrated with a gigantic bonfire and a fireworks display. (via, via, via)

Lantern Festival

Lantern festivals occur all across Asia and have different backgrounds, but in China they’re believed to have started as a ritual to acknowledge the end of winter and the return of light. Other lantern festivals occur at the autumnal equinox, more in line with the custom of Halloween. It’s easily one of the world’s most eerily beautiful festivals as the celebrants release thousands of floating lanterns into the night sky, sometimes to symbolize letting go of the old self and welcoming a new one. The top photo is of a lantern festival in Taiwan, while the bottom two are in Thailand. (via, via, via)

Hungry Ghost Festival

The terrifyingly named Hungry Ghost Festival is a Buddhist observance commemorating the dead. The holiday is closely tied with ancestor worship. In order to honor their deceased living relatives, many Buddhists will leave open seats at the festivals for the dead, often with plates of food. The holiday occurs across the Buddhist world and thus has many variations, but it may involve lanterns, performances, and bonfires. (via, via, via, via)

Up Helly Aa Fire Festival


Up Helly Aa is a spectacularly picturesque festival in Scotland’s Shetland Islands. It’s celebrated at the end of the Christmas season and has Viking influences. The largest festival takes place in Lerwick and consists of a torch procession that ends with the tossing of the torches into a Viking longship, which is allowed to burn. (via, via, via)

Gai Jatra

Gai Jatra, the festival of the cows, is a Nepalese celebration commemorating the people who died in the previous year. The cows are brought to the festival by anyone who’s had a family member die that year. Sometimes the cow will be substituted with a small boy dressed as a cow. While there are certainly creepy or ghoulish elements of the festival, for the most part it’s a much more lighthearted affair than most other festivals of the dead. It’s believed to have started when a Hindu king’s son died, and the king, wanting to see his queen smile again, threw a festival that would reward anyone who could make her laugh. The festival is now marked by jokes, satire, and mockery. (via, via, via, via)

Famadihana

Famadihana wins as the world’s most hardcore festival of the dead. It’s a ritual performed by Madagascar’s Malagasy people, and it’s known as “the turning of the bones.” In it, the relatives literally dig up the dead, rewrap the corpses, and then dance with the shrouded bodies. The tradition comes from the belief that the dead can’t fully enter the afterlife until they’re wholly decomposed, so it can take many years for the process to complete. (via, via