Autumn festivals from Diwali, Hungry Ghost, Day of the Dead, Guy Fawkes and more!!

Nov 15, 2023 Episode 164

Hear about autumn festivals around the world from Diwali, Hungry Ghost, Day of the Dead, Guy Fawkes and more!

Episode Transcript


LEELA: Hello and happy Diwali, everyone! No idea what that is? Don’t worry – we’ve got ya covered with this rerun of our autumn festivals special covering all the celebration and traditions that happen this time of year – from all over the world.

 OPENING STING – LEELA: “New, new, newsy – Newsy Pooloozi!”


LEELA: Hello and welcome to Newsy Pooloozi – the coolest dip of news and information around.

MAMA: In fact, it’s the only world news podcast for kids – through a lot of adults like it too.

LEELA: I’m your host Leela Sivasankar Prickitt and my sidekick here is…

MAMA: Lyndee Prickitt.

LEELA: Otherwise known as the big-story explainer, sound engineer and… my Mama!

MAMA: All true.

LEELA: So…. It’s autumn in the northern hemisphere and that means…………. BAGS of candy are just around the corner! I’m talking about Halloween, folks.

MAMA: OK, OK – candy in moderation, ahem. But that’s not all.

LEELA: Oh, no. Did you know that around the world there are LOADS MORE festivals that happen this time of year?

MAMA: In India alone there are more than half a dozen festivals in Autumn, which we told you about in Episode 115 (click here to hear it!) a few weeks ago

LEELA: But there are many more you might NOT have heard of – like the Hungry Ghost Festival in eastern Asia, which isn’t as scary as it sounds.

MAMA: Same goes for the Day of the Dead in Mexico.

LEELA: And do you know about Bonfire Night – or should I say Guy Fawkes – night in England?

MAMA: Never mind the biggest festival of the year for Sikhs.

LEELA: And do you know the story behind Thanksgiving? Well, we’ll tell you all!

MAMA: Yes, we’re delving into our archive to bring you this compilation of all our autumn festival stories.

LEELA: So be prepared to hear my 7-8-and-9-year-old voice.

MAMA: So cute… Your ten-year-old voice is pretty sweet too.

LEELA: Thank you… And we do have a few fresh stories for you as well.

MAMA: And we’ll play these in date order of how they’ve come or are coming on the calendar this year. So, sit back and get ready to be entertained and informed.

LEELA: And maybe a little spooked too…. (waaahaaaahaaaaa!).


EPISODE: 18 – Hungry ghost festival (THIS YEAR AUGUST 12, 2022)

MAMA: Of course, the big news story of the week is NOT Halloween!

LEELA: OH no, or really should we say it’s not ONLY Halloween.

MAMA: Exactly! Because Halloween isn’t the only autumn fright festival happening in the world…

LEELA: And this is a world news podcast.

MAMA: It also turns out we’re all a lot more similar than you might think… So, let’s start with the first spooky celebration on the calendar.

LEELA: Well, almost two months ago the frightening festivities began in the “Far East” of Asia with the Hungry Ghost Festival.

MAMA: It takes place on the seventh month of the lunar calendar. That means it’s based on the moon’s cycle, not our normal 12-month calendar. It’s usually around August and September.

LEELA: And for this we go to our Taiwan correspondent, Yu Ching Liu, to tell us more….

YUCHING: In Taiwan like most of Asia our ancestors are a big deal. Not just our grandparents, but our great, great, great grandparents too. We find many ways to pay them respect. We leave offerings or light incense for our ancestors in our homes or at temples. And for people who follow the Buddhist or Taoist faith there’s more.

In spring, the Ching Ming, or grave sweeping, festival is a national holiday. The Double Ninth festival is another chance for us the living to pay our respects to the dead. But the Hungry Ghost Festival is when the dead are believed to come visit us! For a whole month!

They are said to roam around…  seeking food and entertainment though some call it mischief!

The naughty ghosts are believed to be ancestors who weren’t given a very good farewell, or funeral, when they died. On the night of the full moon a large feast is prepared with an empty seat left for the hungry ghost.

Families make sure there is a lot of food and drink! I mean, wouldn’t you want to keep a hungry ghost happy?! This is Yu Ching Liu reporting for Newsy Jacuzzi!

LEELA: Thanks for that great report, Yu Ching. But I’m not so sure I like the sound of having ghosts over for dinner…

MAMA: Well, you gotta keep ‘em happy.

LEELA: I gotta keep ‘em away!

MAMA: It’s interesting that Buddhism began right here in India and then spread east. But that festival has faded away for the most part.

LEELA: Good! (laugh) Too scary for me! Though some Hindus do celebrate Poot Chatter dashee… where you light 14 candles for your ancestors. But they don’t come to dinner when they’re mad at you!

MAMA: Well, I have to say I’m really drawn to the idea of holidays in which you take time out to remember your ancestors. I think it’s sweet…


LEELA: It’s Diwali! (In singing voice)

MAMA: In fact, the festival season in India kicked off several weeks ago with Ganpati, or the Ganesh festival in Mumbai, then the Durga Puja up in Kolkata…

LEELA: But Diwali’s the biggest.

MAMA: True, I’m just saying India is such a huge and diverse country with Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis, Jains… And that even amongst the majority Hindus there are a lot of different festivals.

LEELA: But Diwali’s the biggest.

MAMA: To many people, yes.

LEELA: And since there are about a billion Hindus on this earth, we thought we’d mark the occasion and give a little explainer to those who don’t know much about it.

MAMA: Well, Take it away, Leela.

LEELA: Well, Diwali is the festival of lights. It’s celebrated either in October or November, depending on the cycle of the moon. In north India, Hindus believe lamps, called Diya’s, were lit to guide the return of Lord Ram, or Rama, and his wife Sita back home, after being in exile for 14 years.

MAMA: And some also believe the lights, or Diya’s, are lit so that the goddess Lakshmi will find you and bless you and your home.

LEELA: But only if it’s clean and you’ve been well behaved!

MAMA: There’s that… Now in different parts of the country, other Hindus associate Diwali with Lord Krishna or other gods. Regardless, simply put

LEELA: It’s the victory of light over darkness!

MAMA: But don’t take our word for it.

LEELA: Let’s hear from our correspondents Adhyant and Nirbhay.


LEELA: Thanks, guys!

MAMA: Love those boys!  Now let’s hear from South Indian Sadhana Nagaraj from Bangalore, whose family also lights up their home and decorates their doorstep with colorful rangoli designs in preparation for Diwali.

LEELA: Which you can see on our website.

MAMA: Yep, we’ll put pictures up of that. And other Diwali celebrations up on our website, here’s what her family do on the main day.


LEELA: Yuuuummy! It’s fair to say, like most festivals around the world, food is an important part of Diwali!

MAMA: Indeed. But there’s another part that’s pretty interesting. A lot of people want blessings not just for their family and homes, but for their business and professions as well. With special ceremonies even to blessed financial books or books of accounts as they call here

LEELA: And for more on that let’s go to Reyansh Zaveri, whose family comes from the western state of Gujarat, though they live in Delhi.

REYAANSH: Diwali is the best.

LEELA: You said it! Then again, I have a lot to choose from!

MAMA: Yes, you do. Thanks, Reyansh.

LEELA: And to the twins and Sadhana!



MAMA: Next on the calendar would be our very own Halloween… But first we should say that it’s not really celebrated in India, where we are, right?

LEELA: But I do!

MAMA: Well, we do have American friends, so we get together on a trick-or-treat route with them.

LEELA: But now lots of Indians celebrate it.

MAMA: Well, not lots, but in the cities where people have more exposure to America, then, yes, it’s

starting to pick up. But let’s face it India is a very open country that likes to party.

LEELA: People here celebrate any good festival going!

MAMA: And who doesn’t like to dress up and get candy? Even some British people now join in the fun. But no one quite likes… America.

LEELA: So how did it start?

MAMA: I was hoping you’d ask that! So, once upon a time… long before Christianity spread across the world, many Europeans were what’s known as pagans, an ancient religion that worshiped many gods. And the Celtic people, who lived in what we now call Ireland and Britain, celebrated something called Samhain (sow-in), with bonfires and parties marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year… During this festival period, guess what they believed happened????

LEELA: Oh… I know… the dead ancestors came back to life!

MAMA: Bingo! Like in Asia, the Celts believed there was a period when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurry. And people were worried they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. So… to disguise themselves…

LEELA: And they dressed up in funny costumes!

MAMA: Well, they wore masks hoping the ghosts would mistake them for fellow ghosts. And leave them alone.

LEELA: Ah ha… But what about trick or treating?

MAMA: Well, you see, when Christianity came to the Celtic areas, it’s believed that the church wanted to replace this pagan ritual with their own… They had something around the same time of year called All Saints Day and All Souls Day, which were days to honor the dead, also with bonfires, parties, people dressing up as saints and angels. And…

LEELA: Trick or treating!

MAMA: Kind of… During the festive season poor citizens would beg for food in return for praying for the dead relatives of the person giving the food. Eventually ordinary children who are “going-a-souling,” as they called it, visit houses in their neighborhood and are given food and money.

Hallowmases/All-hallowmas… Which became All-hallows for short… And the parties were celebrating the night, or even, before… so All Hallows Eve…

LEELA: (old man laughs) Halloween! I get it.

MAMA: Yes!! (Spooky laugh) You. Are. Right. But interesting how India doesn’t really celebrate the Hungry Ghost Festival anymore, Ireland and the United Kingdom don’t really celebrate All Saints or All Souls Day much anymore.


MAMA: Well, that’s probably a whole other podcast. But many people believe that when the towns and cities were building up in America, local leaders felt Halloween was a great way to build a community. And it’s just kept building and building.

LEELA: Block party!

MAMA: So, Halloween is on October 31, and two days later and a bit further south of the US is…


LEELA: And right after Halloween – on November 2nd – is the Day of the Dead festival, celebrated in and around Mexico! I admit when I was little – well, littler than I am now I always used to think it was one scary celebration. Even after I saw the movie Coco. But then I started to think those decorated skeletons, with all those designs and colors, were pretty cool.

MAMA: Oh, yeah. And when you think it’s just about paying our respects to the dead, especially people from your own family kinda like Asia’s Hungry Ghost Festival – well, it’s lovely, really.

LEELA: Totally. Now I get it. But for anyone wanting a bit more, we’re going to cut across to our new correspondent from Texas, Max Pena, whose of Mexican heritage and can give us the whole tradition.

MAMA: Yep. How it came about and is celebrated in Mexico and how he and his family celebrate it in Texas.

LEELA: Well, take it away Max!

MAX: Thanks, Leela. So, first things first – the Day of the Dead in Spanish is Día de los Muertos. And it goes way back. Like several thousand years ago!

That’s loooong before the Spanish people came to Mexico.

It was started by the indigenous, or original, Nahua people, which included the Aztecs and Toltecs.

So, when their loved ones died, they didn’t mourn or cry, or get all upset.


Believe it or not, that was considered disrespectful!

Because they considered those who died to STILL be members of the community!

Their memory and spirit were considered alive.

And on Día de los Muertos, the ancient Mexicans believed their dead friends and family would return to “the living world” to see them.

OK, just for a day, but still.

How cool is that? Today’s Día de los Muertos is a mix of this ancient belief and more modern, Christian rituals.

That’s why it’s a day of celebration – of parties.

It’s not a day to be sad and it’s not spooky.

Dressing up like the dead, like skeletons, is all part of the fun.

Most people make little altars in their homes with photos of their ancestors surrounded by flowers, candles, and some of their favorite things. You know, to remember them.

Here in Texas, we do an abbreviated, or shortened, version of it. In my house my grandmother makes tamales and moles. In Fort Worth Texas, I’m Max Pina reporting for Newsy Pooloozi!

LEELA: Oh, man. Tamales and mole – you’re making me hungry, Max! Thanks a lot for that report.

MAMA: Yes, and I believe tamales and the mole sauce is a special dish for the festival. Some people believe the cornhusk wrapper of the tamale represents the coffin and the stuffing inside of meats and cheese represents the body.

LEELA: So, you’re eating your ancestors?!

MAMA: It’s symbolism, Leela. Just a symbol or a metaphor.

LEELA: I know, I know. I’m joking. I get it. And it’s still making me hungry!


LEELA: And there’s another festival this time of year, celebrated only in the United Kingdom. Bonfire night!

MAMA: And it might be one of the only festivals marking something that DIDN’T happen.

RAN: Remember, remember, the Fifth of November Gunpowder treason and plot I see no reason why gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot

LEELA: Oh…  what was the gunpowder plot???

MAMA: Good question. And I know just the person who can answer it…

LEELA: Ah! That would be our England correspondent, Jackson Hosking!

JACKSON: Well, Leela. Over 400 years ago, in 1605, a man called Guy Fawkes was caught in the act, about to blow up the Houses of Parliament…using a big stash of gunpowder. The building he was planning to destroy is where the British government still meets today.

So, the planned attack clearly didn’t happen, there was NO explosion. That’s because someone in the know betrayed Guy Fawkes and around 13 other people, by telling the authorities about their Gunpowder Plot.

The story goes that Guy Fawkes was captured standing over the barrels of gunpowder that he and the rebels had secretly collected in the basement, under the part of the palace known as the House of Lords.

Their plan to blow up the building included killing the Protestant king, King James I, and his government…and replacing the king with a Catholic ruler. By doing this they hoped to give Catholics a better life in Britain.

After his capture, Guy Fawkes was kept prisoner in the Tower of London and then executed as a warning to any other rebels, all those years ago.

Today, people in Britain celebrate this moment in history, and the failure of the plot, by lighting bonfires and setting off massive, impressive firework displays, usually at big, organized events.



LEELA: And in case you didn’t know the Thanksgiving story… take it away, Mama.

MAMA: Well, the story goes… In the year 1620. There was a group of religious and economic refugees, called the pilgrims, that fled England for a better land. America, the 66 days journey across the Atlantic Ocean in a ship called the Mayflower wasn’t easy and when they arrived, they were sick and weak. And not alone.

There were natives. who looked a bit different to them but were helpful and kind, teaching the pilgrims how to cultivate corn and get sap from yummy maple trees and which poisonous plants to avoid? And as a show of thanks, a massive feast was planned at the end of the harvest season the next year 1621. Sadly, such friendly encounters didn’t continue as the settlers took over the native people’s land. And it was not until almost 250 years later that Abraham Lincoln encouraged the yearly dinner of thanks, the last Thursday of Nov. But it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that made it an official holiday in 1939.

And here’s a little detail you might not know he moved the date forward a week… hoping to give the flagging economy a boost with extra time to shop in the run up to that other holiday… Xmas. Regardless of its history, for most thanksgiving it’s a time to stop and remember what you’re thankful for. Like we do, right?

LEELA: Yep, And that’s not all…

MAMA: Oh, no it’s not… As with most festivals… for many people including our podcasting cousins from the terrific Book Power for Kids series thanksgiving is a time to see family and…

LEELA: …and EAT!!!



MAMA: It’s always festival time here in India! But, yes, the main festive season for most of the many religions practiced here is typically from early autumn to the new year. And now –

LEELA: The biggest festival celebrated by the Sikh community all over the world is just around the corner. Guru Nanak Jayanti also known as Gurpurab marks the birth of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak.

MAMA: And our very own correspondent Yuvraj Sahni is gearing up to celebrate this with his family at home and at the Sikh temple, called the gurdwara. He’s got this report.

YUVRAJ:  My family and I celebrate Gurpurab with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm.

Before COVID, the celebrations were grander and processions displaying Sikh martial arts, dance and culture used to happen on roads.

In Gurpurab, we wear new clothes and go to the gurdwara. The gurdwara is decorated with lights, fresh flowers, candles, and streamers. People distribute sweets and food is served to everyone.

In the evening, we do prayer at home. We light candles and remember the teachings of Guru Nanak. I love the simplicity of the festival. Wishing everyone a very happy Guru Nanak Jayanti.

LEELA: Thanks a lot, Yuvraj and that’s it from us this week with this special autumn festival capsule.

MAMA: We hope you guys have a great festival season. Stay warm, be kind, be curious and have fun!

LEELA: See you next week in the happy, splashy world news pool.

MAMA: Whooooo!

LEELA: Peace.