For lovers of things that go bump in the night, there is no better time of year in the United States than Halloween, but around the world, it’s not just about October 31. For many global communities, there are plenty of other dates on the calendar that mark days of ghoulish celebration and bloody rituals.
From religious practices to community legends, here are five scary festivals throughout the globe that will make you think twice about your next visit to a haunted house.
1. Saint Nicholas Day in Czech Republic
While November 2, The Commemoration of the Departed, may be the Czech version of Halloween, it’s St. Nicholas’s Day in Prague that’s really haunting. In the city’s old town square, revelers dress up as St. Nicholas, angels and devils, to relive the folklore tale of St. Nicholas and to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season.
Also called Mikulas, St. Nicholas’s Day is on December 5th and is marked by St. Nicholas, an angel and a devil walking around to spectating children asking them if they’ve been good throughout the year. Good children receive candy and bad children are supposedly sent to hell—and trust me, the devils are legitimately frightening Though it is considered child’s play for many adults, you will definitely hear the terrified screams of many children in the medieval town square.
2. La Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme
More than just a day for the dead, La Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribartemeis the Spanish tradition where near death experiences are celebrated by carrying around their loved ones in their own coffins. Creepy, right?
With the help of their family, people who have experienced a near death experience within the year are carted through the streets of Las Nieves, Spain, to a small church named Santa Marta de Ribarteme, the patron saint of resurrection. While there’s fireworks, dancing and plenty of celebratory meals after the parade, it’s certainly one that will make you look twice at the funeral attire hanging in your closet and your newfound habit of not waiting for crosswalk signs. And even worse are those people without families; they’re required to carry their own coffin to the church. Tough crowd, right?
In Madagascar, this festival, also known as “the turning of the bones” is celebrated to appreciate the dead, but it’s a little more creepy than your average Dios de las Muertas graveyard feast.
Celebrated no more than once every seven years, the people of Madagascar believe that their dead relatives bones are made into new generations of descendants, and while their ancestors bodies are still decomposing, the dead are still able to communicate with the living world. In this festival, family members break into family crypts and gravesites to undo the wrappings of their deceased, and then rewrap them in fresh cloth until the full decomposition is completed. While they also have a great feast, dancing and singing with the corpses is also a part of the tradition, one that many would be hesitant to join.
While this comparison is likely to get me into trouble regarding political correctness, the rituals of Thaipusam remind me of the ceremonials in “Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom.” Don’t believe me? Hear me out (and maybe watch the movie again, currently streaming on US Netflix).
On the full moon of the tenth month of the Hindu Calendar, Thaipusam is celebrated to honor the victory of Lord Murugan against the tyrannical leader Soorapadman, and to this, they enact various acts of self-mutilation. From piercing their chins, skin and cheeks with giant skewers to dangling their bodies from handmade carts by the skin of their back, they eventually end up at local shrines to provide offerings. It’s accompanied by many festivities, including food and song, but if you don’t think that’s worthy of a Harrison Ford remake, I don’t know what is.
5. Day of Ashura
This Islamic tradition is on the 10th day of Muharram and celebrated to commemorate the bloody death of the prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Husayn ibn Ali. And trust me, it makes for a very gory festival for the Shi’a Muslims who partake in the Azadari Rituals.
Martyred in the Battle of Karbala, Husayn ibn Ali was beheaded and mutilated in front of a crowd of witnesses, and to honor his death, young men and children gather in the streets of Islamic communities around the world to strike their bodies with knives and sharp objects in reverence. If you think it’s not on the creepy side, make note that parents only intervene after their children are considered to have life-threatening wounds from their self-beating. Followed by feasting and parades in some places, it does have its lighter side, but the self-mutilation is sure to give some cultures pause and has actually been banned by leaders of faith but is still continued in a few parts of the world such as India and Bangladesh.
So much more than a corn maze, and definitely very different than Western trick-or-treating and costumes, these five festivals are either on your new travel bucket list or the next nightmare to keep you up after dark. But either way, they give plenty of new material to ghost story tellers looking for their next inspiration.
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