As October is upon us, I’d like to celebrate my love of this magical time with a few posts to celebrate all the things I like about and like to do during Halloween season. And what better place to start than with the most basic of questions, why?
First and foremost I like the open creativity. People can dress up as monsters, faeries, pop culture icons, or visitors from the future. Granted, creating a costume from scratch can be a lot of work, but I think there’s even something to be said for choosing and combining different costume pieces, creating your own version of whatever you’re creating.
And, on a related note, I enjoy the theatricality. People can transform themselves into any character they can imagine, adopting a strange posture, voice, and general style. During Halloween season, everyone is free to practice their amateur acting skills.
However, I will say that I think Halloween in general has become an oversimplified holiday. Most focus on the fear, on being scared and uncomfortable, but I think there are other sides to it.
Consider the jack o lantern, one of the most iconic images of Halloween, often seen as the mask/head of some fiend, or thrown by creatures like the Headless horseman. But it’s most often seen as a light on the steps, or in a window, a light in the dark. Traditionally lights in the dark are a signal, a way of letting others know that “I am here”. Often it’s an invitation, a guiding light to lead others to you, so that you can welcome them.
Then there’s the mythos that surrounds Halloween, in its different forms. Some cultures believe the dead return to the land of the living, while others believe that monsters roam freely. In almost every case there’s a sense of “others” coming into our world, mingling with us. What greater sense of community could there be? For one night monsters, spirits, and humans all come together, free of conflict.
Lastly, the modern emphasis on scary during Halloween. Granted, I think there is something fun about being scared, and about being scary (donning the mantle of the monster, looking into the darkness, etc.). But I don’t think that’s all Halloween can or should be about. I think there’s also an element of whimsy, a certainly harmless prankishness about it, not unlike the Shakespearean fool or Puck.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer a few examples of my favorite seasonal activities:
These come in two flavors. The first, and probably more common, is the theatrical haunted trail, where people walk through a series of “sets”, with actors openly looming or quietly waiting to surprise the unwary. Many parks and ticketed venues like to host their own, but I would recommend looking for trails primarily staffed by volunteers, and here’s why. The paid ones may have the quality sets, but the volunteer actors are the ones who do it for love of the craft, and in my experience they often put on a better show.
The less common are the historical trails, where one or more experts/actors may take guests on a tour of graveyards, historical homes, and other locations known to be associated with strange events. Of course these tend to be far more subdued than the theatrical trails, but with the right storyteller they can come alive as well.
I recommend sampling a wide variety of haunted trails in your area, as the quality can truly vary, though good company makes any experience a wonder.
Like Christmas, Halloween is known for decorations. Again, this is a good time to look at local venues and parks running their own Halloween themed events, particularly jack o lantern festivals or contests. You can also look at costume shops and neighborhoods known for going all out on decorations. Maybe wander around during a few week nights.
Whether it’s costume making, pumpkin carving, or decoration making, who doesn’t like making things. See if any of the local art venues are hosting any “make your own” workshops. Check out Joan Fabrics and other crafting stores to see if they have any fun looking kits for creating handheld items with a Halloween theme.