You wouldn’t expect it, but these three types of rituals have a lot in common even though they aren’t celebrated at the same time of the year.
While O-Bon is celebrated in July and August in Japan, Halloween is on the evening of October 31st – nowadays almost all over the world. Even in Japan the celebration is quite popular these days. However, Japan likes to think of the dead on hot summer days and evenings to send cooling chills down the spine. So in Japan summer is the season for spooky movies while the West prefers the gloomy month of November when the leaves are falling and there is a lot of rain and fog. Even Christianity has taken up traditions of the ealier ancestor cults when celebrating All Saints‘ Day and All Souls‘ Day on the first two days of November, when – at least in Germany – many people visit the graves of their relatives. In the south of Japan, in Okinawa, there even is a special New Year’s Celebration for the ancestors This time the living go and visit the dead at the graves and enjoy a picnic and even occationally some singing and dancing.
For instance, at least two of them – Halloween and O-Bon are about the doors between the world of the dead and that of the living are open. In both cases those family-members that have passed away come to visit their old homes, and the children knocking on doors and shouting „Trick or Treat“ were considered the representatives of the dead returning for a short time. In the olden days, children under the age of seven were considered closer to the spiritual world anyway.
What strikes me as interesting is, that both Halloween and O-Bon are close to the Thanksgiving Festivals in the West and Japan respectively, as the rice is harvested in July. November as well as July (right after the end of the rainy season in Japan) also marks the beginning of the time, when it is easy to catch a cold or even more dangerous illnesses. This danger, in fact has led to the creation of other festivals in Japan, where people demonstrate their strengh and healthiness in parading the gods of the local shrine in heavy wooden shrines or other heavy fantastic structures built for this day. In Europe and Latin America we have Carneval – which most people associate with February when the season of dance and fun starting after Thanksgiving climaxes in wild parties. But did you know that Carneval starts in November – at least in Germany – precisely on November 11 at 11:11? And there are areas in which this is taken so seriously that on that day nobody is working but everybody dresses up and goes to the big party for opening the season in Cologne for example. A lot of towns sport their own Carneval Clubs with a prince and princess of Carneval being elected every year. And in the south of Germany there are places, where sinisterly clad creatures drive a scapegoat out of town to spare the inhabitants from evil.
The time of the ritual may not be the same, but the beliefs behind them and the necessity to break out from the drudgery of everyday life is the same all over the world.