Honouring the Dead Around the World


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Money Savings Advice Honouring the dead around the world

Different countries, different cultures, different traditions. Many cultures around the world have different ways of honouring their dead - whether through a quiet day of reflection, or week-long festivals with dancing, food and music.

This guide will look at some of the beautiful and touching ways in which people honour their loved ones after they’ve passed.

Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos)

This Mexican holiday is well-known across the world. Even if you haven’t seen the classic sugar skull face painting or the colourful parades, you’ll probably have heard the name.

Dia de Muertos is celebrated across Latin America, and it’s far from a sombre affair. Over the first two days of November each year, it is believed that the border between the physical world and the spirit world is at its weakest. In this time, graves of loved ones are decorated with flowers, and altars loaded with offerings of food, water, family photos and candles are built.

Parties, parades and celebrations are thrown in the belief that they will encourage the souls of the dead to return and join in the celebrations alongside the living.

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day

These two days, 1st and 2nd of November, are rooted in Catholicism. Christian communities all over the world take part in large feasts on All Saints’ Day. On the following day, All Souls’ Day is celebrated as a remembrance of all those who have passed.

In Poland, for example, it is common for people to gather around the graves of their loved ones to say prayers, light candles and offer flowers on All Souls’ Day.

Qingming Festival

The worshipping of ancestors is an important part of traditional Chinese culture. The Qingming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day, is a tradition that dates back thousands of years. During this day, people visit the resting place of their ancestors to clean the grave and make offerings of food, drink and flowers to the deceased.

It’s common that this is also a time for flying kites and for food festivals too, as acts of celebration of those that have departed.

Hungry Ghost Festival (Zhongyuan Festival)

During the seventh lunar month (known as ‘Ghost Month’ in the Chinese calendar) it is believed that the ghosts and spirits of the deceased are free to roam the earth once again. This time is about honouring the dead and trying to pacify any spirits that could be suffering. Buddhist and Taoist ceremonies are performed, prayers are spoken, and individual families offer food and have feasts to honour their loved ones.

Burning of paper is also common. By burning paper as an offering - whether containing written messages or even fake money - it is thought that these will be sent to the departed souls to appease them. At the end of the month-long celebrations, paper lanterns are lit and floated on lakes or rivers to help guide the spirits back to their world.

These celebrations take place across Asia, predominantly in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.

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Obon (Bon) Festival

This festival is sometimes called the ‘Japanese Day of the Dead’. During the seventh lunar month, typically around the 15th August, the Japanese commemorate the spirits of their ancestors.

During the three-day festival, people return to their hometowns and spend time with family and friends to honour the people they have lost. Feasts, fireworks and dances are common to welcome and celebrate the departed spirits. Lanterns are commonly hung outside front doors, and fires are lit to guide the spirits back to the world of the dead.

At the end of the holiday, paper lanterns are lit and floated down rivers in a practice known as toro nagashi.


Chuseok is the largest national holiday celebrated in both South and North Korea. It’s a holiday that is all about food, as traditionally it’s a celebration to thank ancestors for their role in providing a good harvest.

As is seen in many other traditions, Chuseok is a time where graves are cleaned and maintained, and offerings in the form of food and drink are left for the dead. Dances, games and festivities also take place as celebrations for the lives that have departed.

Pchum Ben

Pchum Ben is an important holiday in Cambodia. It’s a ritual that lasts 15 days, during which it is believed that the spirits of the dead return to search for their living relatives. Similar to other cultures, food offerings are made to help ease the suffering of the departed souls and help them on their way to atonement.

During this time, people carry food to places of worship, and Buddhist monks then make the offerings to the souls of the deceased. It’s common to see people wearing all white during this time - the symbolic colour of mourning in Cambodia.

Gai Jatra (or Gaijatra)

Gaijatra is a Hindu tradition, typically celebrated in Nepal. In the Hindu faith, cows are considered to be sacred and are thought to help guide the recently departed to the afterlife. During this festival, which is also known as the Festival of Cows, cows are led in processions through towns.

This is meant to be a celebration of death, helping people to accept their loss and ease the pain of any passing.

What Can We Learn From How the Dead Are Honoured Around the World?

While all these ceremonies and traditions honour the dead in different ways, it’s a common theme that these times are about gathering with family, sharing stories and remembering those who we have lost. Regardless of faith and culture, love and respect for those we have lost and wanting to cherish good memories are things we all share.

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