The celebration of Halloween is commonly thought to have its roots in the Gaelic harvest festival of Samhain. During the two days of 31st October and 1st November, the world of the supernatural was thought to be closer to ours and people would light bonfires to invoke the gods and ward off evil spirits.
With the advent of Christianity and the neighbouring holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, Halloween became regarded as a departed spirit’s last opportunity to take revenge on its enemies. Christians would disguise themselves to avoid recognition, leading to today’s practice of dressing up for the holiday.
Although there’s always something to be said for making yourself up as your favourite movie character and going out, this year we thought we’d look for some of the most memorable and spooky celebrations around the world. Read on...if you dare!
Rooted in the Aztec festival of Mictecacihuatl, Queen of the Underworld, this celebration was synthesised with the Spanish Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day to become today’s colourful and vibrant Day of the Dead festival. On November 1st and 2nd, Mexicans remember and pay tribute to their deceased loved ones, but instead of a solemn, ghostly atmosphere there’s something of a carnival vibe to the proceedings.
In the suburb of Mixquic (mis-KEEY-k) in south-east Mexico City, residents carry a cardboard coffin through town to the cemetery, surrounded by people in colourful skull costumes as well as market stalls selling local food and crafts. Families create beautiful graveside altars with traditional marigolds (cempasuchil), sugar skulls, the favourite food and drink of the deceased and candles in order to guide the souls on their journey.
Elsewhere in the city is the highly-recommended Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli, one of the most popular gathering places on the Day of the Dead and home to Mexico’s biggest collection of pre-Columbian art.
North of the border, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in LA plays host each year to a joyful, technicolor Day of the Dead celebration. The day includes a traditional procession of Aztec blessings and ritual dance as well as three stages of music and dance and more than 100 altars. This is one event you definitely want to bring a camera to as the cemetery literally lights up with a rainbow of colours and candles. Families and fans alike build altars honouring the dead with marigolds, incense, photos, mementos, food offerings and elaborate sculptures, as well as representations of earth, air, fire and water.
Hollywood Forever is the oldest cemetery in Hollywood, set just on Santa Monica Boulevard behind Paramount Studios. Celebrities and artists buried there include Rudolph Valentino, Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs Bunny), Cecil B DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, Johnny Ramone, Fay Wray and—in true Hollywood style—even the dog who played Toto in the Wizard of Oz.
This year the event is held on October 27th from noon to midnight. Admission is just $10 and is free until 4pm for those under eight or over 65 years of age. There will be a number of vendors on site selling Mexican food and Day of the Dead arts and crafts directly from the creators. There’s even awards for the best altars and calaca (skeleton) costumes so come dressed to impress!
The Salem Witch Trials may have only lasted just over a year in the 1690s, but their effect has reverberated through history so that even now the name of Salem is synonymous with witches. Even Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s cat was named Salem!
With this in mind, Salem’s annual October Festival of the Dead is an elaborate and dedicated celebration of the macabre. With a free, month-long Psychic Fair and Witchcraft Expo as well as a free Witches’ Magic Circle on Halloween, there’s plenty to do on a budget. There’s also ghost-hunting, séances and a picturesque Victorian Mourning Tea.
The highlights of this festival are the two balls, hosted on consecutive Fridays. The 19th sees the Vampires Masquerade Ball and on Friday the 26th is the Witches’ Halloween Ball. Whether you prefer witches or vampires (or vampire witches), these parties will feature finger food, prizes for best costume, pop and goth DJs and live musicians, bellydancing and more.
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The end of October is right when monsoon season ends and tourist season begins in Bangkok. It can be a great time to discover the city before it gets really busy, and luckily there’s even a huge Halloween celebration right on Silom Soi 4. This road is the focal point of much of Bangkok’s LGBTQ nightlife year-round and is a part of Patpong, one of Bangkok’s most famous red-light districts and home to a thriving night market.
For Halloween, the city’s gay population converges on trendy Silom Soi 4 to celebrate, dressed to kill and ready to party the night away. All of the street’s clubs collaborate to put on a street party decked out in true Halloween style, with DJs, cabaret performances, drinks promotions and sponsored costume contests.
Still looking for somewhere to haunt this Halloween? For those travelling elsewhere in the world, there will be also Vampire Balls in New Orleans, Berlin, New York and Paris, hosted by Endless Night. These formal masquerade balls are happening between the start of October and Christmas and look like they’ll be a spooky, wonderfully ghoulish way to celebrate the Halloween season.
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