BOO! It’s the spookiest time of the year in the western world, when it’s customary to dress up as the scariest thing you can imagine and go door to door, wowing strangers with your costumes in exchange for treats.
At Kwintessential, we’re all about real, native-speaker language translation (the kind that won’t scare anyone away) – but understanding culture around the world is as important an aspect of translation as knowing the language itself.
And what greater cultural experience is there to share than the spooky, thrilling and beloved holiday of Halloween?
History of Halloween
Halloween traces its roots back to Celtic Paganism, to a time when it was called Samhain (pronounced “sah-win”). This ancient Gaelic festival was a celebration of the coming new year – when years were based on seasonal change. In a grand ceremony, a large bonfire would be lit. Sacrifices of crops and animals would be offered to ward off ghouls and spirits, while wearing grotesque costumes of animal skins and heads.
As the Roman Empire advanced over Celtic lands, the Roman influence would be felt in their festivals and celebrations. Feralia, the day in October when Rome celebrated the dead, would contort the traditions of Samhain, while retaining aspects of it.
Gradually, the culturally evolving festival would combine with the Christian feast holiday All Hallows Day – a celebration dedicated to the remembering the dead. By the 9th century, the influence of Christianity had spread deep into Celtic lands, where the cultures and faiths of Pagans and Christians crossed.
The fun and games of the Halloween we know and love today would come into being from the constantly shifting and evolving nature of culture.
How Halloween is Celebrated Around the World
Samhain, Scotland and Ireland
The traditional festival is still celebrated where it all began, with bonfires and fortune-telling as the main events of the evening.
Day of the Dead, Mexico
Possibly the most famous variant of the festival, Day of the Dead is celebrated in all its splendid colour over the three days of the All Saints holiday.
All Souls Day, Italy
Remembering loved ones passed on is an important Italian tradition. On the island of Sardinia, pumpkins have traditionally been carved into “heads of the dead” for centuries.
The Hungry Ghost Festival, China
Spectacular parades and performances are given during the month-long festival, to entertain the spirits of the dead.
Festival of the Ancestors, Haiti
A Voodoo custom celebrated by visiting the graves of lost ancestors with candles, to toast to their lives with a traditional drink of chili-infused rum.
Some Scary Translations
So – how scary can poor language translation be? When it comes to securing customers, or reassuring clients that you’re an in-control professional, bad translation can be a complete deal breaker. Have a look at this product description from a prominent international online retailer: we’ve highlighted some obvious (and not so obvious) issues that could frighten off a potential customer.
This product description contains some technical and specialist information, making it difficult to understand for most people, even on a good day – but even still, there are some glaring oversights. First of all, there’s an obvious inclusion of untranslated German words towards the end of the product description.
There’s also a literal translation from the German language website: “actively/passive entrance” has been mistranslated. This phrase should be written “active/passive input”.
Hyphens are missing, capitalisation is awkward and numbers use the European style of decimal over the kind preferred in the English language. All in all, even this tiny product description has enough going on to scare away English-speaking readers!
To avoid a nightmarish experience for your international customers, use our expert translating services – contact Kwintessential today. Say goodbye to ghoulish gibberish and farewell to frightening falsehoods in your translations when you say hello to our team: just call (UK +44) 01460 279900 or send your message to us at [email protected].