The Best Places to Celebrate Halloween
Published 30 March 2016
It’s that time of year again. Pumpkins adorn the supermarket shelves, Hocus Pocus features prominently on the TV schedules and your cupboards are stuffed full of garishly coloured sweets ready for the deluge of trick-or-treaters. You guessed it: it’s Halloween.
Thought to have its roots in Celtic Christianity and Paganism, this historic yet ghoulish festival first cropped up in Ireland over 1,000 years ago, marking the end of harvest season and the start of winter. The idea soon snowballed, and these days traditions include formal remembrance services for the dear departed, scary fancy dress parties, ghostly tours and more. Whatever your taste, Angela Griffin gives you the lowdown on the best places to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve.
The name Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is actually pretty misleading considering the festival is celebrated in Spanish-speaking countries on the three days starting 31st October, rather than just the one. The deceased, whose spirits are believed return to their families for the occasion, are honoured with processions, dances and live music. In Oaxaca, the marketplaces buzz with colourful craft stalls, streets are adorned with sugar skulls and costumed relatives hold candlelit vigils at their loved-ones’ graves. After dark, the main square becomes one big party: there’s heaps of food, the drinks flow and revellers celebrate all night long.
At Halloween, Filipino children walk from house to house singing songs in exchange for money or food, a tradition known as Pangangaluluwa, or souling. Sadly, this ritual is dying out and gradually being replaced by the more westernised practice of trick-or-treating. As well as singing, families light candles and say prayers by the graves of their family members, watching out for small items, such as clothes or shoes, that are ‘taken’ by the spirits in the night and left in unusual places such as the garden or the street. To witness these traditions, your best bet is to head out of town – in Manila you’re much more likely to come across raucous fancy dress parties with blood-themed cocktails.
The USA goes a bundle on Halloween: seemingly every shopfront boasts a luminous shade of green and jack-o’-lanterns glow outside each front door. With so much going on, you’re bound to find a party or two wherever you go, but nothing beats Salem in Massachusetts, the town famous for its 17th century witch trials. Every October the town hosts a month-long Festival of the Dead, when fires blaze on the hilltops, witches cast spells and visitors flock to ghoulish events including a psychic fair, a witchcraft expo, a vampires’ masquerade ball and, the hottest ticket in town, the Salem Witches’ Halloween Ball. For something a little more authentic, head to nearby Danvers, the original village of Salem and tour the former home of Rebecca Nurse, who was executed for witchcraft in 1692.
Hong Kong’s Halloween celebrations consist of two contrasting customs. The first is the traditional Yu Lan Jie, the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, where incense, food and paper offerings are burned to placate the spirits of the dead. In some households, sumptuous meals are served at the empty seats of deceased family members. The second, far more commercial take on the event is the annual Disney Haunted Halloween, held at Hong Kong Disneyland, a fun-filled spectacle of spooky goings-on, including playful ghosts, potent potions and a trick-or-treating Mickey Mouse.
New York, USA
New York doesn’t do Halloween by halves. It’s haunted houses and pumpkins galore in the Big Apple, home to the world’s largest Halloween procession. This annual spectacle, held in Greenwich Village, features floats, costumed puppets and over 60,000 performers. But forget all that – what really draws the crowds is the Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade, where our furry friends are dressed up in their favourite spooky costumes before they strut down the street to compete for the coveted best costume award.
In Japan, the Buddhist festival of Obon marks the one day of the year that the souls of our ancestors return. Lanterns are hung outside houses, dances are performed and offerings are made at altars and temples across the country. When it’s time for the spirits to return to their own world, floating lanterns are put into the rivers and lakes to guide them home. Obon is celebrated mid-August –leaving plenty of time for the more western-style ghosts and ghouls fest in October – and is best appreciated in lively Osaka.
New Orleans, USA
Voodoo is interwoven into New Orleans culture, a secretive movement that passes most visitors by – unless they know where to look. But at Halloween, that all changes with the Voodoo Music & Arts Experience, a three-day musical showcase reflecting New Orleans’ diverse arts scene. The French Quarter’s Voodoo shops, some of which are specifically aimed at vampires (yes, really!), open their doors and put on special events – you can also gain an insight into the guarded world of the occult, or perhaps learn a spell or two before hitting the street parties.