In the ancient kingdom of Mide in Northern Ireland, the legend of three brothers, Bres, Nár and Lothár weave a tragic story through time compelling the world to offer sacrifices each year as winter settles over the land. In America, we call this Halloween.
Halloween in Europe is a little different than what we are used to in the United States. It varies from country to country with celebrations that range from turning on saunas for the dead, to hiding under a bedsheet and pretending to be a dead horse that rhymes.
Epic Backstory of Halloween in Europe
It all began 2,000 years ago. Bres, Nár and Lothár were known as Findemna. The brothers were triplets. They chose their wives based on how much their urine could melt snow; they plotted to murder and overthrow their father as King; and a son they shared was split in three so each brother could control 1/3.
They were also ruthless, savage and power hungry.
The brothers ruled with their father at Tlachtga, a mountain named after their mother who died in sacrifice to them. In death, Queen Medb of Connacht vowed to watch over the land and promised that no ruin would come to the people so long as the brothers were respected and honored throughout time.
Tlachtga became a legend. Daughters bore her name, traditions were created in her honor, stories were carved out of memory and over time, Tlachtga became the very place that Samhain took root.
Where Halloween in Europe Began
Samhain (pronounced saa • wan) began as a Gaelic festival to offer tribute to Queen Medb, honor the triplet brothers, rejoice at the end of the harvest, revere the turning of the seasons and pay tribute to the dead.
The dead, who each year on October 31, return to Earth when the veil between the living and the dead is most penetrable. It becomes a ritualistic time for feasting, partying, and celebrating. A day for the dead to partake of the living traditions they are excluded from, and the living to peek into the after life to come.
Halloween Spreads Throughout the World
From Tlachtga, the Irish spread Halloween to the rest of Europe and then to the rest of the world. It has spawned folklore of its own, epic storytelling and chronicles, and traditions that combine aspects of each unique culture with a celebration of the Spirit World.
They even brought it to America after the great potato famine of 1845. Now, Canadians and Americans alike have embraced the ancient Gaelic traditions and foster imagination, creativity, and a spirit of camaraderie and giving each year.
Halloween in Europe
33 Bizarre, Amazing and Weird Traditions
This is the most definitive list of every fall festival in Europe, plus the best traditions and customs for celebrating Halloween in Europe.
Grab a bowl of candy and prepare to get weird.
1. Ireland: Samhain
It all began with the Irish and today, Samhain is celebrated in modern day Mide with The Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival. Of course, festivities occur on none other than the mount of Tlachtga herself.
On October 31st at sundown, every light in Ireland in put out and a giant bonfire is lit. At this moment, the barriers between worlds is freed and every spirit since time immemorial can co exist together.
Then everyone dresses up as demons to confuse actual demons who have free reign over the Earth all night.
2. Romania: Halloween Party at Bran Castle
Technically, Halloween isn’t even on the calendar in the country of Romania, but popular culture has created a hotspot within the city of Transylvania with Bran Castle at the center of it all.
On November 2, a party is held at the famous castle running all night from 9pm until 5am. Children and adults alike are welcome to participate in traditional Halloween festivities complete with a spooky festive setting, food, a visit with the immortal Count Dracula, candy, haunted sights and sounds, a time tunnel and more!
The weirdest thing about this celebration? It’s super affordable! Tickets run from $35lei/$8 to 320lei/$73.
3. 4. & 5. Italy: La Festa di Ognissanti | Benvenuti all’inferno | Eurochocolate Festival
November 1 & 2 mark Ognissanti in Italy, the beginning of the olive harvest. Ognissanti is a mild celebration that is less Halloween, and more All Saints Day. It is celebrated with bread and desserts, plus a trip to the cemetery to remember loved ones who have died, including the saints and martyrs who died on behalf of the Catholic Church.
It’s also traditional to propose marriage during Ognissanti by hiding rings in bean cakes. Cultures all over the world belief that the souls of the dead actually live in beans.
In the city of Corinaldo, Italy however, it’s all Halloween. The witches here give Salem, Massachusetts a run for its money. The witches of Corinaldo believe they are true descendants of their idols and they celebrate a festival that lasts for four days in October.
It is titled Benvenuti all’inferno: Welcome to Hell.
All things must have an opposite, and so, just 1.5 hours from Hell you can find Heaven in the form of the Eurochocolate Festival. This Eurochocolate Festival is held between October 19 – 28 in central Italy, in the town of Perugia.
This is an incredible event where chocolatiers put on incredible displays and workshops, not to mention chocolate tastings and fantastic dishes to try with chocolate as the main ingredient, of course.
The best part is that don’t have to choose. The Eurochocolate Festival ends just in time for Benvenuti all’inferno. When that’s over, you can stuff your face with olives.
6. Andorra: Day of the Chestnut
October 31 in the tiny country of Andorra, sandwiched between Spain and France, is the Day of the Chestnut!
Chestnuts are baked along with sweet potatoes in open fire pits, and served to the bell ringers who are tasked with ringing the bells on All Hallows Eve. The bells are rang for 24 hours – without stopping – to honor the deceased and remind the living to pray for the dearly departed.
7. 8. & 9. Germany: Oktoberfest | Festival of Lights | Martinstag
Olives, chestnuts and now beer. 7.5 million liters of beer, to be exact!
Germany is known the world over for their stupendous Oktoberfest traditions. Held in Munich, Oktoberfest is a month long tradition consisting of a fair and a whole lot of specialty brewed beer.
- A fair where no one drinks before the Mayor has had the first sip
- Where Adidas released a vomit proof sneaker for sale
- The only place you show off your wealth by sticking feathers in your hat
October is a great month to visit Germany and participate in all the autumnal revelry.
Another October fall celebration in Germany is held North in Berlin. The Festival of Lights invites artists from all over the world to metamorphosize the city with dazzling displays. The artists use lights to transform static buildings and structures into dynamic life forms.
Martinstag is the actual German version of Halloween in Europe. It occurs on November 11, and young children carry lanterns, sing songs and collect sweets, breads and candies.
Also on Martinstag? Everyone in Germany hides their knives for the day lest someone accidentally cut or injure an invisible ghost roaming about.
Interesting Fun Fact: Candy corn was invented by a German confectioner of the Goelitz Confectionery Co.
10. & 11. The Netherlands: Martinisingen & Sint Maarten
Similar to Germany, Martinisingen is celebrated in the Netherlands on November 11, and is the original Go Fund Me campaign. Farm hands would be let go in November to survive winter without shelter, work, and food. They would send their children door to door with lanterns made from carved beets to beg for food and gifts.
Today, this practice continues, but in a more symbolic than literal way in an event called Sint Martin.
Yes, Halloween festivities share the same name as The Netherlands Caribbean island.
On November 11, at 11:11 am children roam door to door with lampionstokjes (lanterns) singing complicated Dutch songs in exchange for candy. It’s traditional Halloween without the tricks.
Because, weirdly enough, it’s also very popular to visit Police Stations during Sint Maarten.
12. Austria: Seleenwoche
Seleenwoche is a Halloween celebration held from October 30 – November 8 in Austria. Instead of one day to remember the dead, they light a candle and leave out bread for an entire week.
13. Wales: Mari Lwyd
Ireland is where Samhain originated so it’s not surprising that alternate traditions have also found a home around the United Kingdom and the British Isles.
Mari Lwyd is one of the best traditions of Halloween in Europe.
The skeleton of a horse head is affixed to a pole and carried through town with a white bedsheet trailing behind it. The person beneath the bedsheet carries the pole and takes on the persona of the dead horse, whilst attempting to best other people in a game of wit and poetry.
In exchange, they get free food and alcohol.
This is the exact tradition where the song: “Here We Come A-Wassailing” derived. To wassail is to drink plentiful amounts of alcohol and enjoy oneself with others in a noisy, lively way.
Or, in order words: drink while pretending to be a dead horse.
14. Spain: Día de Todos los Santos & Día de los Difuntos
Similar to Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations, Spain separates November 1 & 2 with individual and distinct celebrations.
- Día de Todos los Santos is strictly for honoring saints
- Día de los Difuntos is for reuniting and remembering family members
The most unique part of Spain’s celebrations is a strong alcoholic drink made inside a hallowed out pumpkin. It’s called quemada, or Galician Fire Drink, and is a mythical drink of blue fire. It can ward off evil spirits if drank after reciting an incantation.
15. France: Toussaint
Toussaint is French for All Soul’s Day. Since the year 835 AD, Toussaint is celebrated as the French version of Halloween in Europe between October 22 and November 3.
Sometimes, Toussaint is referred to as the Potato Holidays; a variation of school break since all the children are already missing school because they are working the potato fields.
This is also a time for family reunions. During the celebratory time of Toussaint, families are forbidden from fighting. Instead, they take this opportunity to grieve for loved ones together and strengthen familial ties by walking through cemeteries and sharing chrysanthemums with the dead.
16. Belgium: Driekoningen
In Belgium, if you don’t give children money, candy or both, you could die.
At least, that’s what the children will tell you. Whereas in America we simply say trick or treat, in Belgium, the children threaten to kill you.
Of course, they are also dressed as Kings and Queens.
And this happens at Christmas.
17. Great Britain: Guy Fawkes Day
Nothing is more important in Great Britain than Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated on November 5.
It’s the day that the traitor, none other than Guy Fawkes, was apprehended and the crown was no longer under siege.
The British light bonfires and continue to defame and deface the likeness of Guy Fawkes, and the threat he was to their monarchy.
18. Poland: Zaduszki
Zaduszki is a celebration held in November where the living must get out of the way of the dead.
Unofficially, it’s zombie day.
While the spirit dead come back to earth to eat, drink, play and attend mass, the living are expected to get the heck out of the way. They have a choice to either stay in bed, or go to bed early after playing servant.
If the living dare be alive during the day they must constantly apologize to the dead and offer instructions about where they are going to walk, or what they are going to do so they don’t get in their way.
19. Russia: Dzaidy
Similar to celebrations held in Poland, people of Slavic origin welcome the dead in their homes on Dzaidy with chairs set up by the fire. In Russia, however, both the living and the dead are welcome.
However, the living are forbidden from spitting. Just like the Germans have to hide the knives on Halloween, the Russians must refrain from spitting lest they hit a ghost with their stray saliva.
Candles are lit to keep ghosts warm and cold milk is the beverage of choice to cool the souls of those roasting in hell.
20. Denmark: Fastelavn
Copenhagen is one city where an American style of Halloween has been widely embraced. Tivoli Gardens transforms into a huge fall festival where everyone is invited to participate in the fun.
Fastelavn is a celebration that occurs prior to Lent in the spring, and is a more traditional and uniquely Danish celebration that resembles Halloween festivities each year.
Children dress up in costumes, feast on unique dishes including a type of cream puff called Fastelavnsboller, play games, smash pinatas, sing songs, and of course trick or treat for money or sweets.
The weirdest part? The pinata isn’t filled with candy. It’s got a real live black cat inside!
21. & 22. Finland: Kekri
Finland has two Halloween like celebrations; one in the spring and one in the fall.
In the fall, Kekri is celebrated. Kekri is an agricultural harvest festival that has origins dating as far back as Samhain, even though it gets no credit for Halloween origins. It is a period of celebrating seasonal changes, welcoming the thinning of the veil between worlds, and a time of dress up and pranks.
Young adults dress up the Kekripukki, a goat with horns. As a goat, kids go door to door “asking” for food and beer. If it is not offered, the adolescents will threaten to break the oven of the homeowner.
In the Spring, Finlanders celebrate Palm Sunday. This holiday is a little bit Easter and a little bit Halloween.
On Palm Sunday in Finland, young children dress up as witches and knock on doors offering to bless your home in exchange for candy. They carry willow twigs and sing: “A twig for you, a treat for me” to drive away evil spirits. Their hard work is rewarded with chocolate eggs or coins.
23. Montenegro: Day of Širun
For the past 53 years in Montenegro, the first Saturday of the month of October is celebrated as The Day of the Mackerel.
Instead of costumes and candy, Montenegro celebrates Halloween in Europe with fish and wine.
The Day of Širun is an all day festival held in the coastal city of Budva featuring singing, dancing, performers, food, wine, and fish – obviously. Children are heavily involved and perform in children’s choirs, gymnastics performances, children’s rock groups and soloists, preschool showcases and youth circles.
24. Czech Republic: Čarodějnice
Think Groundhog Day in the US, and you’ll start to understand how the tradition of Čarodějnice took root. Whereas much of the world celebrates summer turning to winter for Halloween festivities, The Czech Republic holds a celebration at the opposite end of the year, as winter turns to spring.
Čarodějnice translates to Witches Night. Witches are rampant throughout Germany and the Czech Republic, and it’s believed that on April 30 witches are at the height of their power.
And of all the things they could do with that power? The witches attempt to prolong winter! It’s Narnia all over again.
In order to keep them at bay and allow Spring to arrive, citizens must dress up as witches themselves and chase the real witches out of their hiding places in the trees.
The night culminates with huge bonfires where participants burn witch effigies to further chase away winter. The children with the biggest fire earn both prizes and accolades.
25. Croatia: Truffle Days
More important than Halloween in Croatia, is celebrating the white truffle, otherwise known as mushrooms.
Seemingly every city in the country takes part in worshiping the beloved fungus. Different festivities include eating truffle dishes like fuzi, pljukanci, gnocchi, and fritada, exhibitions, tastings and demonstrations, and fairs and prizes awarded to farmers in various truffle categories.
Sounds like an October European road trip could be just the thing to celebrate fall.
Start off in Spain with Quemada, the blue fire drink and make your way through central Europe on your way to Andorra for some freshly roasted chestnuts! Celebrate Touissant on your way through France and swing wide to make a stop in Belgium and The Netherlands before heading to Germany to celebrate Oktoberfest. Now it’s time for Croatian mushrooms, before finishing a whirlwind trip with the perfect dessert in Italy!
But, we’re still not done yet.
26. Iceland: Öskudagur
Celebrated in Spring, and coinciding with Ash Wednesday, Öskudagur is the closest Icelanders get to celebrating Halloween in Europe.
Children dress up in costumes and go door to door singing for candy, but it’s not that easy. In Iceland, nothing is rewarded without effort. Icelandic children prepare for weeks and months leading up to Öskudagur, and perform as part of duets or groups.
27. Latvia: Ziemassvētki
Halloween like traditions in Latvia are tied to the Winter Solstice and go by the name of Ziemassvētki. More than any other country on this list, celebrations in Latvia more closely resemble Christmas than any other holiday. A Latvian Ziemassvētki is filled with fir tree decorations and yule logs, but also include masked costumes and parades.
Rolling the yule log through the town gathers up all the negative energy from the year including bad thoughts, feelings and actions. Once the log has made its way through the entire town it is burned in a huge fire with townspeople gathered together in costumes and masks for celebrations that include singing and dancing.
While in costume, the revelry continues as townspeople also go door to door. They bring luck and chase away evil spirits with each house they visit and are bestowed small gifts along the way.
28. Isle of Man: Hop-tu-Naa
Hop-tu-Naa is a fall celebration that is essentially Halloween, plus a little bit of prediction match making intertwined.
Two traditions are the most commonly used:
- Sollan Shlig: For this test to work, you first fill your mouth with water. Then you take a pinch of salt in each hand and listen at a neighbor’s door to their conversation. The first name you hear is the name of your future husband.
- Soddag Valloo: This tradition involves eating a cake in silence near the midnight hour. After eating it you must walk to bed backwards, all while not saying a word or making a sound. While you are asleep, spirits will reveal to you signs about your future mate by allowing him to enter your dreams and offer you a glass of water.
Couples already united carry turnip lanterns and dance through the streets like they do in Star Lord’s favorite movie Footloose.
29. Bulgaria: Surva Festival
A Bulgarian Surva Festival is a celebration where important dignitaries sing, dance, and dress up alongside Kukeri. The Kukeri are people that dress in carnival costumes, specifically adorned with fur and bells, and have a scary mask that hides the person’s identity.
Sounds a lot like the goats of Kekripukki in Finland. In fact, they aren’t dissimilar. The costumes in both cultures resemble animals.
The tradition of the Surva Festival stands in as a sort of Halloween in Europe to scare away evil spirits, tell fortunes and teach Bulgarian children about traditions and honoring the past.
30. Luxembourg: Trauliichtwochen
The word Trauliichter refers to the ancient All Hallows Eve tradition of carving faces into beets, and placing a candle inside the beet to use as a lantern.
It’s clear that many ancient cultures carved gourds. We continue this practice even today!
In Luxembourg dating back to the 19th century, boys would use the trauliichter to bring the cows in from the pasture at the start of each winter. The lanterns would not only guide the cows to shelter, but as the cows passed through two trauliichter placed on the left and ride side of the barn, all evil spirits would be chased away.
This practice morphed into a festival that begins on October 19 and runs through November 3. It is commonly referred to as beet week.
In modern times, boys carve lanterns not to guide cows, but to chase girls.
Festivities of Trauliichtwochen also include beet lantern making workshops, pumpkin cake baking, ceramic ghost modeling, carriage rides, fall workshops, animal feeding, donkey rides, campfires and a culmination of using the lanterns to venture into Ghost Forest!
31. Estonia: Mardipäev
Mardipäev is celebrated on November 10 in Estonia, and is widely recognized as the Estonian version of Halloween in Europe. This celebration honors Saint Martin who fed, clothed and looked after the poor and needy.
Yes, the same Saint Martin celebrated in Germany and The Netherlands.
In the past, children would rub their faces with soot and dress in a bedsheet to mimic the time when Saint Martin tore his own cloak in half to give to a beggar to keep warm. Children would travel door to door asking for food such as apples or nuts. As they would leave each home, they would throw rice behind them to wish the patrons good luck.
Today costumes are more elaborate, and candy has replaced the fruit and nuts.
Like most of the world, Halloween in Estonia also involves celebrating the dead and leaving out food for ghostly visitors, like Estonian favorite porridge.
But the most important thing, and perhaps the weirdest thing to happen on Mardipäev is that the sauna is prepared for the departed; turned on high and prepared with linens, soap and water.
32. Portugal: Pão-por-Deus
Translated to Bread of God, Pão-por-Deus is Portugal’s version of Halloween, or All Saint’s Day. Anciently, Pão-por-Deus was celebrated in May but was adopted in November to coincide with the rest of the Catholic celebrations around Europe.
Young children, up to the age of 10, go door to door in neighborhoods, or in the city from shop to shop. In fact, children greet anyone they meet whether at home or not, singing Pão-por-Deus requesting treats.
Treats are different varieties of bread either filled with fruit, chocolate, nuts, or seeds.
33. Switzerland: Fasnacht
The last on our list is the Halloween celebration of Fasnacht in Switzerland. Like many other European countries, Switzerland celebrates Fasnacht at the end of winter. The celebration is a carnival that includes parades and elaborate costumes, and is named after the donut that is consumed in vast quantities during the festival.
Fasnacht means night before the fast – literally. These donuts were made to use up all the lard and sugar before fasting on the Sabbath. They resemble a beignet.
The Swiss do not have trick or treating, because… they have donuts.
Fasnacht is a countrywide celebration that does encourage dressing up. In fact, the costumes are often quite intense, particularly the masks that many citizens wear.
Celebrations also include parties that go all night, parades that begin in the wee morning hours, and candy that is distributed to all party goers for three days straight.
► For Kids: Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without kids to offer death threats to unwilling participants. Halloween in Europe is a family affair and each one of these countries offer fun for all ages – even Oktoberfest which is well known for its kid spectators!
Have you ever celebrated a holiday far from home? Tell us all about it!
► What We Learned: You can cut a ghost with a knife in many European countries!
Are you superstitious or more of a eat the bread yourself kind of person?
► Nap-Time Version: Although Halloween in Europe may not be identical to what we celebrate in the United States, Europeans have added their own flair to the holiday and in some ways celebrate it even better! These are 33 of the weirdest Halloween traditions in Europe.
Be sure to also check out what Halloween is like in Witch City: Salem, Massachusetts!