Halloween: different places, same day

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Many other cultures celebrate holidays similar to Halloween. Photo courtesy of Nagaraj Hegde

Sam West

Halloween is such a significant tradition in American society. It’s easy to forget that in most of the world, it’s not celebrated at all. However, there are many similar holidays in other cultures, and international students often bring these traditions with them to Tuscaloosa.

One Indian celebration, Yug di, has similarities with trick-or-treating. This holiday takes place in the spring and involves families sharing food with one another. Each household exchanges a sweet dish and a bitter one.

“That signifies that life is filled with happiness, [but] also there will sometimes be situations that we don’t really anticipate and don’t really enjoy,” said Nagaraj Hegde, who holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and leads The University of Alabama Vedic Society. “The thing is to accept both sweet and bitter tastes in life.”

A holiday close in date to Halloween is Dussehra, which was celebrated throughout the Indian subcontinent last week. This tradition honors Lord Rama, a heroic God, and his defeat of Ravana, a spirit who embodies all the negativities of the world. Celebrating the holiday involves constructing an effigy of Ravana and shooting it with a flaming arrow.

“This signifies the victory of goodness over evil,” Hegde said. “There would be a lot of food and everything accompanying the festival.”

Next week, the Vedic Society will celebrate Dusshera with a concert from an Indian fusion band, the singing of religious chants and the telling of stories about Lord Rama.

Costumes are probably the most famous aspect of Halloween. Dressing up in the United States is usually done for fun, but in the Nigerian practice of masquerade, it’s taken very seriously.

“It’s a man who dresses up in a certain type of costume, and the costume represents the spirit of a dead ancestor,” said Nneamaka Enweani-Ndukwe, who holds a doctorate in chemistry and is the president of the African Students Association at the University.

Before a person can dress up in a masquerade, they have to undergo several religious rites. Once they are in costume, they are considered to embody the ancestor whom they are dressed as.

“They’re treated like a normal member of society, because we believe that when someone passes away, their spirit is still with us,” 
Enweani-Ndukwe said.

People in masquerade costumes make appearances at weddings, coronations and other formal ceremonies. During wintertime, they will often perform dances.

“They will come and pay homage and respect, and respect will be paid to the person in the masquerade suit because they are representing the dead ancestor,” she said.

Though Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society, this practice is done throughout the country. In the future, Enweani-Ndukwe said she’d like to use the tradition as a way to get students interested in African culture.

“We would like to do something where we incorporate the masquerade,” she said. “We have thought about having a whole week where we have people come try African food, teach people how to cook African food, and teach people how to do African dances.”