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What is Holloween and Why we celebarte them vs Ulambana (Ancestor Ceremony)

Updated on September 10, 2011

Being raise in a family that does not celebrate “Halloween” the American way, I’m lost of words of understanding why U.S. celebrate Halloween? And what is Halloween? Our family celebrate “Ulambana” every October. This is the season when the gate of hell is open for the dead to come and beg for food from the living. We human would go to the pagoda and bless their soul with lots of food and money to cherish them. Their soul is being set free for 15 days and after that they must return to hell and continue their punishment. After few researched on why American celebrate Halloween, I came into a conclusion that it is a celebration of Saint.

Halloween celebration is being celebrated on the day of October 31st each year to November 2nd. October 31st is Samhain, which is usually celebrate in October 31st in the evening. Samhain is a Gaelic Harvest Festival which is Celtic New Year, was popularize from the 19th Century. In today century, only Wicca’s and Neo-Pagans celebrate this. On November 1st and 2nd, it is a celebration of “All Saint Day” and “All Soul Day”.

On all Saint day, it is a celebration to honor all Saint both known and unknown. They would asked for prayers and intercession. All soul day is a celebration of remembering the dead. Not just only remembering the dead, but also apply through prayer, almsgiving, and the Mass to their soul to release from purgatory.

During the celebration of Halloween, children would dress up in Halloween costume (scary) pretending to be the dead so the dead would not come and take their soul. Some believe that dressing like this will frighten the dead so the dead will go away. Activities for Halloween would include: trick-or- treating, carving jack-o’-lantern, bonfire, apple bobbing, playing pranks, telling scary stories, and visiting haunting places.

After completely understanding why Halloween is celebrated, it is similar to Ancestor ceremony also known as Ulambana for the Khmer Buddhist Community except that we don‘t dress up scary. Ancestor ceremony for my culture is considered “Pchum Ben” which held from 13-27 of September according to the Gregorian calendar. The first day of 8th lunar month which is in October of Khmer Buddhist Calendar.

On the 13 of September is the first day when the gate of hell is open to release the dead to find their family. This is when time is busy for monks and family. My family would go to the temple from that day until the 27th to offer food and send prayer for the dead. The prayers and blessing that we send to them will help release their soul from purgatory. Some soul does not have children or family member offering them food, known as the forgotten soul, they will sit down and cry. The worst is, they will curse their children and give them bad luck. Therefore it is very important to go to the pagoda and send them prayer to heal their soul and let them know that they are not forgotten. When I go to the Pagoda, I always send my prayer for all soul whether I know them or not. Most importantly, I send to my ancestor first before the other soul.

During the ancestor ceremony, my grandma always make sticky rice with sugar, coconut and sesame seed to the pagoda every morning. I learn that they would build a hut with the special rice for the dead while the monk is chanting from 5am every day starting 15th of September to 27th of September. My grandma would fold the banana leaf in four corner, like a box, then she would put the special rice around it with candle in the middle. This candle is a symbol to show the light for the dead. That special rice is ONLY being made/cook during ancestor ceremony. It is not ALLOWED to be cooked on regular basis. This is just information that was given from my grandmother, but I’m not sure if this is true, I would have to asked the monk about it since they know better than I. But the special rice is very delicious!

For the special rice, it is made:

Steam sticky rice, very different from the rice we regularly eat (glutinous rice)
Ripe coconut
And roasted black sesame seed

What my grandma did was she steam the sticky rice then after the sticky rice is steamed, she would roast the black sesame seed. After the rice is cook, she dip her hand in cold water and grab the rice and roll it in small ball (size of a thumb). She would the grab the banana leaf and fold it in a shape like a box and use toothpick to hold each corner. After that she would put the rice ball to fill up the small banana leaf box. After that she would put sugar on top of it then ripe coconut and then roasted sesame seed.

After it is cooked, she would take it to the pagoda and the monk will accept it with blessing. Then when the ceremony start, the monk will let all laypeople to light a candle and place it in the center of the rice and start his chanting. The chanting is a chanting calling the dead to come get the rice. The candle is the light to show the dead where the rice is at. We would place it in a small hut with candle being light with a glass of water next to it. It is very important for each one of us to call out the name of our ancestors and parent spirit to come get the rice.

On September 27th is the most important day out of all the other day for ancestor day. It is the big day and the ending of ancestor day where our ancestor must go back to hell to complete their punishment. By the way, I forgot to mention that September 15-27th is the Gregorian Calendar for year of 2011, but for the Cambodian Buddhist Calendar, it is year of 2555. September 15 is October 1st for the Cambodian Buddhist Calendar and September 27th is October 15th, the end of ancestor ceremony. Therefore, Cambodia Buddhist Calendar is 544 years older than America.

In conclusion, Halloween is a celebration of Saint (the devil) not welcoming the dead and dressing up as scary figures will fright them. As for the Ancestor ceremony is a celebration of honoring the dead by welcoming them. Even though those two celebration is speaking about celebrating the dead, but have slight different belief.


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    • chanroth profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California, USA

      Hello Rajan, thank you! I'm very happy that you learn something with this hub! :)

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      6 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      I learnt about Halloween and the Cambodian Ancestor ceremony thanks to you.

      Nice useful hub. It thrills one when one learns a bit about other cultures.

      Thank you, Chanroth.

    • chanroth profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California, USA

      I'm glad you learn something new. Thanks! :)

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 

      6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      Thanks for sharing. Very interesting. Love learning new things!

    • chanroth profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California, USA

      Hi Vinaya, I'm glad you felt delighted after reading it. Thank you! :)

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      6 years ago from Nepal

      I know so little about Halloween. And I really felt delighted after reading this article.

    • chanroth profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California, USA

      Hi Kampuchea, la'or nas! Ar kun!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Rothanna, this is very interesting! I don't know Halloween in united state, but Cambodia sabai nas.

    • chanroth profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California, USA

      Hi Bonavee, thanks! Fun to scare people pant off! lol...

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is very interesting. I never knew Halloween mean so much. I thought it's giving out candy and scare people pants off.


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