Halloween traditions across Asia

The Festival of Cows Nepal

Celebrate Halloween the way these Asian nations do. Source: Shutterstock.

AROUND this time of year, stores adorn their windows with toy bats, homes line their garden paths with craved pumpkins and more witches than usual can be spotted roaming the streets.

But don’t worry, they won’t turn you into a frog, they’re just after candy.

Halloween wasn’t always as fun-filled as it is today, it used to be taken very seriously.

The tradition of Halloween, or All Hallows Eve as it was originally known, dates back over 2,000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.

Celts used to believe that on October 31, the dimensions between the living and dead world would open and the dead returned to Earth. Festival-goers would wear animal heads and light huge bonfires to scare away the unwanted spirits.

Since then, Halloween has evolved and lost a lot of its religious undertones, revealing a wholly enjoyable and mostly secular celebration.

Today, Halloween in Western nations such as the US and the UK is associated with creative costumes and kids running from door to door shouting “Trick-or-treat?” at the person on the other side, hoping to be offered a handful of sugary snacks.

But if you head across the globe to countries such as China, Japan, and India, you will see Halloween is celebrated in unique ways.

Here’s how the East traditionally celebrate their versions of Halloween.


Halloween is known as Teng Chieh in China and celebrated on the fourteenth night of the seventh lunar month as per the Chinese calendar.

Instead of ousting spirits and scaring the dead from re-entering the living world, Chinese families prepare traditional food and offer it to their ancestors.

Giant bonfires are ignited, lanterns are let off, and colorful hanging lights are lit and sailed across bodies of water in miniature paper boats.

These boats symbolize new openings for spirits and are meant to help dead souls peacefully pass into heaven, especially for those who weren’t given a proper burial.


The Japanese paint the town red for their version of Halloween, but not in the usual sense of the phrase.

Halloween in Japan, known as Obon Festival, is celebrated in July or August every year and involves covering neighborhoods in red lanterns to guide the deceased back to their families.

The living also clean their loved ones’ headstones and make offerings at altars and temples.

Japanese style floating lanterns

Source: Shutterstock.

At the end of the festival, families guide the spirits back to the grave using floating lanterns, known as toro nagashi.

These floating boats are a spectacular sight to watch as they drift down rivers into the sea.


In what seems to be a pattern of respecting the dead rather than warding them off, Korea also makes offerings to the deceased at temples and shrines known during a Halloween-type festival known as Chuseok.

The harvest festival and three-day holiday is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar.

The festivities are more of a thanksgiving than a ghoulish ceremony.

However, these traditions aren’t hugely practiced by the younger generations in big cities such as Seoul.

Instead, Western-style Halloween celebrations and costume parties have become increasingly popular.


The “Festival of the Cows” is held every year between August and September in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

The colorful celebration through the city is led by a cow, or sometimes a young boy dressed a cow, with families joining in as it passes.

Source: Shutterstock.

It is believed the cow will help the deceased pass through into heaven.


In their very own version of “Trick-or-treating” Filipino children go from door to door singing songs in exchange for candy.

However, the celebration, locally known as Pangangaluluwa, is held on November 1, All Souls Day, the date originally dedicated to worshipping saints in the Celtic tradition.


In perhaps the longest Halloween celebration in the world, Cambodia enjoys the events of Pchum Ben for 15 days every year.

The festivities usually culminate in early October and involve buffalo races, parades of chanting monks and hundreds of thousands of lit candles all paying respect to Cambodian’s ancestors.

So, there you have it, six of Asia’s most colorful Halloween celebrations, all of which carry the theme of celebrating the dead, rather than frightening them away.

However, if you find yourself in any of these nations on Halloween, and want to dress as a scary doll, Frankenstein or even your favorite superhero, you’ll undoubtedly be able to find a Western-style party in one of the larger cities.

Happy Halloween!