It’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing colours, grinning jack-o-lanterns light doorways and there’s a mysterious change in the air. It’s impossible to think about fall or the changes that the season brings without thinking of one holiday: Halloween.
Halloween is an annual holiday, typically celebrated on the last day of October each year. Methods of celebration vary across the world, but most commonly in the United States mostly children, but many adults, as well, go trick-or-treating; many attend costume parties, gather around bonfires, decorating their homes in spooky scenes and play pranks. How you choose to celebrate Halloween can be as varied as the holiday itself. Here’s a look at the past, present and future of the spookiest holiday of the year.
Halloween may go back as far as the Roman festivals of the dead. Most historians believe the closest link between modern Halloween and the past comes from celebrations of the Celtic festival Samhain. This Gaelic harvest festival derives its name from the words for “summer’s end.” In Medieval Ireland, Celts celebrated the end of the harvest season and the movement of the world from longer, lighter days into the darkness of winter, associating it with honoring the dead. Bonfires and costumes, which were Gaelic traditions meant to placate or scare away evil spirits, are traditions from this pagan celebration that are still a part of modern Halloween celebrations.
Halloween connects “All Hallow’s Eve” and the Catholic holiday “All Saint’s Day.” Celebration of All Saint’s Day is on 1 November. “All Soul’s Day” traditionally follows on 2 November. These solemn holidays are commemorations of the dead, meant to honor “saints known and unknown” throughout the history of Christianity. In many predominantly Catholic countries, All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day are national holidays, accompanied by parades, celebrations and traditions.
Although Halloween may have its earliest roots in medieval Roman and Celtic traditions, the celebration takes a variety of forms around the world. In the United States, the Halloween tradition has become highly commercialized: costumes, candies and decorations sell, well, in almost every store. Halloween has also taken on a reputation as a night for pranks and raging parties, especially among younger generations.
The only other nation that could match the United States in terms of crazy Halloween parties is the country where Halloween originated, Ireland. At pubs in Ireland, you’re not likely to be served a drink of you don’t show up in costume on Oct. 31. In other countries like Germany, you can tour “Frankenstein’s Castle” or take part in a bonfire party at the site of a medieval French witch-hunt. London is the home of Mary Shelley, author of “Frankenstein,” as well as an annual convention known as Witchfest International.
No matter who is looking to get in on the Halloween fun, celebrating this holiday can be as fun or as spooky as you’d like. In the United States, a typical Halloween is sure to include a few or all of the following elements: jack-o-lanterns, scary movies, trick-or-treating, bonfires, bobbing for apples, costume parties, playing pranks, visiting haunted houses or haunted attractions, and having a freak-tastic good time.
Whether you’re a family with small children, or someone just looking to party on 31 October, you can use a few of these ideas for celebrating. Throw a Halloween party. Turn your house into a “haunted mansion,” or sponsor a horror-flick marathon. Go to a haunted house or a haunted corn maze. Soak up fall weather with a hayride. Host a pumpkin-carving contest at your home. Make your own crazy costume and plan, beforehand, the parties or bars where you’ll show it off.
Families with small children are sure to enjoy the warmer sides of Halloween. Young children are likely to want to dress up as their favorite superheroes or princesses. Parents can enjoy taking their kids trick-or-treating. Many community functions also offer “fall fairs,” with face painting, bobbing for apples, cotton candy, popcorn, and prizes that are sure to put a smile on any child’s face. You may want to stay away from horror flicks and scary movies, but they can enjoy trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, and soaking up the crisp fall air with their little ones during this “magical” night of the year!
Those who are looking to cut loose are guaranteed a great night to party on Halloween. Younger and older generations alike take the idea of costumes and playing pranks to an extreme. Sometimes raging costume parties can last all night, often involving copious amounts of alcohol as well as a variety of Halloween-themed snack foods and games. Sometimes parties include turning a home into a “haunted house” or by showing back-to-back classic horror flicks, such as “The Blob” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Whether in a bar, in a public celebration or at a string of house parties, Halloween is sure to not be a disappointment for any partygoer.
Halloween has changed quite a bit since in the last one or two thousand years. Although the future of Halloween parties may change, it’s likely that some traditions, such as wearing costumes, enjoying the excitement of getting scared and plain ol’ having a good time with friends, will always be around.
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Eileen Rush is an LA-based writer and journalist.
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