Halloween around the world

Tonight is Hallowe’en – that special time of year when dark magic is in the air, all manner of creatures come out from their hiding places, and even the spirits of the dead might come out to see us. You might see a goblin creeping up the pavement on your way home from work, or bump into a vampire in Tesco’s!


But while we all know the normal traditions of this spooky time of year, from children trick-or-treating in order to get some delicious candy, to the grinning faces of jack-o-lanterns carved from pumpkins, the real focus of Halloween is a supposed joining of the worlds of the living and the dead, and a chance of a meeting between the two. Here are five Hallowe’en-like festivals from around the world, which you may not have heard of.


Samhain – Scotland and Ireland

Hallowe’en as we know it is mostly celebrated in Christian countries, and therefore coincides with the festival of All Hallow’s Eve. This is the day before All Saints’ Day, the holiest day in the Christian calendar. But, in parts of the United Kingdom, the origins of Halloween go back much further. 


Originating in Ireland, but also celebrated in Scotland, Samhain, or Samhuinn, was a time when the ancient Celts believed that the spirits of the dead could cross over to the mortal world, and people in Scotland and Ireland today still make bonfires in order to draw them in. The Irish also make a special fruitcake named barmbrack, which contains all kinds of strange objects. What you find in the cake can supposedly tell your future – a ring, for example, predicts marriage, and coins predict future riches!


Dia De Los Muertos – Latin America


Keeping up our theme of contacting the dead, Dia De Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) is an annual festival that takes place, mainly in Mexico, but elsewhere in Latin America too, from November the first to the second. 


It is believed that the gates of Heaven themselves open on the night of October 31st, allowing the souls of children to be reunited with their parents for 24 hours. Two days later, on the 2nd of November, the adults come down to join the party!


As such, everything must be carefully prepared for their arrival. People wear distinctive skull-like make-up, to make the returning souls feel more at home, They also prepare special altars for the spirits of their relatives, complete with food offerings including a special bread called pan de muerto (bread of the dead). Childrens’ altars are also prepared with toys and sweets, but those of adults more often with cigarettes and shots of alcohol!


Yu Lan (The Hungry Ghost Festival) – Hong Kong

Something which unites all of the festivals in this blog is great regard for the dead. Yu Lan, or the Hungry Ghost Festival, celebrated in Hong Kong, China from mid-August to mid-September, is no exception. It is believed that, much like in Dia De los Muertos, the spirits of the dead return to our world at this time, and wander restlessly – and their time spent in the afterlife has left them hungry!


To satisfy the restless souls, much like in Dia de Los Muertos, food offerings are left outside to the spirits, and the people of Hong Kong burn fake money in offering to their departed relatives. Temporary stages, made of bamboo, are also built in the city, which host opera performances in honour of the dead.

Pitru Paksha – India


In the Hindu religion, the god of death is Yama. When you die, it is believed he takes you to Purgatory to see the last three generations of your relatives. However, for 16 days during the second Paksha of the Hindu lunar month of Bhadrapada (usually August-September) he allows the dead to return and visit their living relatives. 


This festival is known in India as Pitru Paksha, and much like our other festivals, people offer food to the returning dead – in this case kheer (sweet rice and milk), lapsi (a sweet porridge), rice, lentils, spring beans, and pumpkins, which are cooked in silver or copper pots and served on banana leaves.


However, this is a risky business. Unless a ritual known as the Shradda is performed correctly following the dead person’s visit, their soul could end up wandering the Earth forever!


Zaduszki – Poland (and other Slavic countries)


Bringing us back to Europe, Zaduszki, taking place in the first two days of November, is the equivalent of All Souls’ Day for Polish Catholics. Much like in the other festivals here, it is believed that the dead return at this time : and great care must be taken to make sure they enjoy their break from the afterlife!


As such, on the first day of Zaduszki, a great deal of care is taken over the final resting places of the dead. People travel to graveyards, sometimes making great journeys, to maintain the gravesites of their departed relatives, leaving candles and offerings of flowers. During the holiday, people are very careful not to disturb the dead – even going to bed earlier, and keeping dogs on their chains so they don’t interfere with the spirits!


On the final day, after the dead have had their time in the world of the living, a special mass is held to preside over their return to the afterlife. This is treated with absolute reverence – no living person can watch this ceremony, with often severe punishments for intruders.


Zaduszki is also observed, by other names, in many other Slavic countries, including Russia, Bulgaria and Slovakia.


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Are young people better at learning languages?

Is it easier for young people to learn a new language?


Think, for a second, about how complicated your native language is. Maybe it has grammar rules like no other language, or three genders, or more than one alphabet. Perhaps it would take most people years to fully learn. However did you manage to master it? How clever must you be?

You’d obviously respond that you were a child when you learned your native language, and that it’s just easier for children to learn. Childrens’ minds are like sponges – they absorb new things very quickly, and keep them. As you get older, and the ‘sponge’ gets used more over the years, you might think that the sponge of your brain loses its ability to hold new knowledge. An old sponge doesn’t hold water as well as new one, and, put simply, its a common belief that the younger you are, the easier it is to learn a new language. But is this true? 


Seeing as the 12th of August was International Youth Day, we’ve decided to explore whether approaching a new language really is easier if you’re younger

The answer, perhaps reassuringly for our older learners, is both yes and no.

There are two ways you can learn a language – explicitly, and implicitly. Think about it this way. When you’re learning a language, do you know you’re learning it, or not? If you are an active student who’s aware they’re in a learning environment, such as a language school like Ingla, and are making an active effort to learn the rules or grammar and vocabulary, that’s EXPLICIT learning. On the other hand, if you’re immersed in a new country, culture and language, and manage to pick up the language without being aware that you’re learning, this is IMPLICIT learning.

To simplify things, younger learners, particularly children, are much better at implicit learning. When they spend time with native speakers, they absorb their words much more quickly, retain what they’ve learned, and can imitate what they’ve heard accurately. They grasp language without implicit instruction, because their brains actually form physical neural connections more quickly. How do you think people in your home country, some of whom may never have set foot in a school in their lives, can at least speak and understand your  native language? 

However, those of you who do have children will know that it can be very difficult to get them to concentrate, or even stay in one place for a long period of time! The attention to detail, focus and motivation required for explicit learning can be hard for children, and even teenagers. This is where adult and older learners have the advantage.

Indeed, in a school environment like Ingla, where we learn explicitly, being older may serve you better. You’ve developed problem-solving skills and logical thinking that can only come with experience. Your experience with language learning in your native country has also familiarised you with grammar concepts and vocabulary, making you more prepared for learning than someone approaching a new language for the first time. Lastly, you’re also much more highly motivated, better organised, and able to follow your teacher’s instructions!

So, is it easier for younger people to learn a new language? In some ways, yes. But, in an environment like a language school, there’s no need to be discouraged if you’re getting on a little bit in years, as your experience and maturity will serve you well.

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