Halloween in the Middle East

As HallOUween (Ohio University’s Halloween Block Party) is quickly approaching, I’ve been wondering what Halloween is like in the Middle East and if it is even allowed.

Halloween started out as a pagan holiday in Ireland, known as the Celtic Festival of Samhain, which was observed on October 31st. It was said that, “the souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day.” However, Irish Catholics brought the celebration of Halloween (the Christian “All Hallows’ Eve”) to the United States and it started to become popular during the twentieth century.

In the Middle East, the majority of the communities do not participate in Halloween, unless they are a foreginer or are living in an expat community. However, they do have their own versions of Halloween that has traditional roots.

Israel: In the Jewish community, Orthodox families typically do not participate in Halloween. However, less observant Jews have started to embrace the holiday. Some families feel that since historically “Halloween has been a time when Gentiles once tormented Jews” it is not right for them to participate in such a holiday. In short, Halloween is not celebrated in Israel, but according to the Travel the Middle East blog, “clubs and bars host special events and costume contests, just like residents throw house parties and some even go trick-or-treating in certain neighborhoods all throughout Israel.”

A tradtional food eaten on Purim is called Hamantashen. It is a triangular, three-cornered pastry that is usually filled with either a poppyseed mixture or jam, although some people also use a cream cheese filling.
A tradtional food eaten on Purim is called Hamantashen. It is a triangular, three-cornered pastry that is usually filled with either a poppyseed mixture or jam, although some people also use a cream cheese filling.

In the Jewish holiday, Purim, Jews celebrate the time when the Jewish people in Persia were saved from extermination. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which usually falls in March. Children dress up and exchange gifts and treats. They go around to the houses, but instead of asking for candy, they visit the ill and the aged. The bring gifts of food and drink and collect money for the needy on this day.

Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine: In Arab Christian countries, Halloween is celebrated on December 4th. However, it goes by another name, Eid il-Burbara, or Saint Barbara’s day. It is said that when St. Barbara’s father found out that she was Christian he struck her with a sword and she ran away from him. While hiding in the hills she disguised herself in many different characters to elude the Romans who were persecuting her. She became a martyr who was tortured and then beheaded by her own father. Children dress up, go trick-or-treating and even make jack-o-lanterns.

Persian Gulf (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait): In the Persian Gulf, they celebrate a day similar to Halloween called Qarqe’an. Children do not dress up, but grab their bags and knock on the neighborhood doors singing traditional songs to get candies, sweets and nuts (similar to the tradition of trick-or-treating). The songs intention is to call on Allah to bless the youngest child of the family and to keep him or her healthy. This tradition occurs in the middle of Ramadan, usually between the 13th and 15th. “In modern times, young parents start to create a small packages of Qarge’an and give them away to their family members and friend and ask for bless their child.” (source)

        qarqe'an                qarqe'an package

Egypt: Egypt has a bit of a different story. Halloween is not celebrated at all and there is no other celebration for it. However, in Cairo, where the majority of foreigners live, Halloween parties are still common and a big part of the party scene. You will see parties here similar to what we have in the United States. It is important to remember though, that the VAST majority of the population that celebrates Halloween in Egypt live in the neighborhoods of Zamalek & Maadi in Cairo. This is not common for the rest of Egypt. Halloween for them is just another day. (source)

As you can see actual Halloween (the Pagan/Christian holiday) is not widely celebrated in the Middle East, but they have other Halloween-like holidays that celebrate things traditional in their own cultures. Overall, it is really cool to see that dressing up and trick-or-treating is not just a westernized tradition, but one for much of the world.











30 thoughts on “Halloween in the Middle East

  1. I can say without a doubt, as one living in Lebanon, that we do in fact celebrate western Halloween. Truth be told, and this may sound strange, but we actually have -two- halloweens. The pagan one that is normally celebrate, and, as the writer stated, the ‘Eid Burbara’. However, you will not see children going around holding a bag and asking for candy. Strictly speaking, the younger members of the community simply celebrate with the way we traditionally celebrate all events: A festival/party. However, traditionally, Burbara is recognized as the main day. The other halloween, the western celebrated one that is, is generally just another reason to celebrate.

    1. Hi! I live in the United States, you’re country sounds pretty interesting! It’s pretty cool you guys have two Halloweens! I’d love to experience what you guys do, but I cannot. It’s great to hear a comment from you! I’m glad you told a little bit about your Halloween! You guys have fun!!

  2. First off I want to say I really enjoyed this blog and appreciated that you explained the Halloween traditions of the different parts of the Middle East, and not just the ME as a whole. I was completely unaware of these celebrations and its entertaining to see the different types of Halloween’s that are celebrated. I love Halloween, and everything that is associated with it. I can’t imagine it, however, being in a different month other than October, such as March or December, which are some of the months you mentioned. One thing that makes Halloween so special to me is that it is in the fall time, when leaves are changing and surroundings are painted up in orange, red, and yellow. This setting brings almost a warm feeling in this cold weather. As we all know though, the climate is totally different in the ME and I am not even sure they experience the feeling of October. I think it would be interesting, for myself, do visit these different areas in the ME during their celebrations of Halloween, so I could change my perception of this holiday and broaden my horizons.

  3. This is very interesting, because I always assumed that Halloween was only a western celebration. It’s cool to see that many countries in the Middle East still go trick-or-treating (or something like it). I liked learning that many of these countries sing to bless the youngest child in their family or their elders. This adds more meaning to the holiday, instead of simply begging for candy as many Americans do.

    Overall, I think many Americans forget the history and meaning behind Halloween and use the holiday as a chance to dress up and eat candy. This blog post reminds us of the history behind our holiday as well as the history behind similar holidays in the Middle East.

  4. Like Jess, I had always thought that Halloween was solely a Western tradition. I love how you incorporated different traditions similar to Halloween in the Middle East along with their histories.
    Although Halloween is my favorite holiday celebrated in the United States, I have to admit that I am not informed on the complete history of it. I think this is a holiday many people participate in just to “have a reason to celebrate.”

  5. I knew Halloween started as a Pagan holiday in Ireland but after that I only ever thought it was a time for people to dress up and get candy for strangers. Now that I am older and slowly moving out of that phase, although I still dress up, I have been wondering about the history of the celebration we take so seriously here at Ohio University. I did not even know that countries in the Middle East celebrated Halloween or had something similar. It makes me wonder if there are other celebrations in the Middle East that we barely know about here in America kind of like how Spain celebrates The Day of the Dead which I had never heard of until I took Spanish in high school.

  6. This was really cool to read because I really never thought of Halloween in different countries. I’m not that informed about why we celebrate it here either I just follow the traditions of costume wearing and trick or treating. It’s interesting to know that some actually celebrate this in the Middle East and since it is not in the same faith it’s cool to see they still take on the tradition for fun, like myself I suppose. This makes me think of other holidays and if they celebrate them just for fun as well, like Valentines day or something.

  7. Very cool read. With the wildness of HallOUween approaching it was interesting to learn of how people in different cultures approach this holiday, and interesting to learn in what ways it was similar and in what ways it was different. The pictures of the Middle Eastern candy was cool too, I would love to try all of those! Experiencing holidays in other cultures adds a whole new level of culture immersion.

  8. This is definitely really interesting. The more I learn about consumerism, the more I began to think that Halloween was just another marketing ploy. In some cases, it may be. but because it has such an international presence and is also communicated for other holidays makes it even more interesting in my opinion!

  9. Reading how different cultures celebrate or embrace holidays similar to Halloween is so fascinating. Although going around and asking for candy as tradition in my household as well as many other across the US, I think that it is sweet that Jewish people in Israel go around and visit the ill and collect money. It is something that would be nice for more people to do worldwide.

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