While American children choose costumes for the customary "trick-or-treating" strolls through neighborhoods to collect candies and pumpkins get carved into Jack O'Lantern to decorate houses along with fake cobwebs, plastic spiders and bats, spooky movies fill theatres with ghoulish and ghastly tales. It all leads up to the tradition of Halloween on October 31.
The original occasion, a celebration that traces back to a Celtic festival, Samhain, has morphed into a day of costumes and candies, with more secular fun than remembering dead relatives, which is relegated to All Soul's Day on November 1. The US celebration was imported with the Irish immigration a century ago.
Certain towns celebrate the holiday with big annual events, including Salem, Massachusetts which honors its legacy of witch burnings and hauntings, and Key West, Florida's Fantasy Fest, a 10-day extravaganza of wild and wilder costume parades and parties. New York City and LA throw masquerade parades.
Here are some of traditional highlights around the US on Halloween:
In New Orleans there's The Queen of the Damned Ball, an annual event hosted by the Vampire Lestat Fanclub, the famed character from Ann Rice vampire novels which take place in New Orleans. Haunted tours of ghosts at the Hotel Monteleone and the French Quarter include a visit to the over-ground centuries-old St. Louis Cemetery. The Audubon Zoo hosts the annual "Boo at the Zoo" for kids to dress up in costumes but the official Halloween Party, called the "Krewe of Boo" Parade on October 24, is a variation on Mardi Gras with mummies, monsters and vampires in street floats. Also, there's a Voodoo Music Festival with Gogol Bordello, Wolfmother, Widespread Panic, The Flaming Lips, The Pogues, and George Clinton and Parliament.
Village Halloween Parade
New York City, New York
October 31 at 7 p.m.
For the 36th year, New York's Village Halloween Parade struts up Sixth Avenue from Soho through Greenwich Village and onto the Chelsea neighborhood with the 2009 theme: "Terra Incognita (Uncharted Waters)." With 50,000 costumed participants and two million viewing the show it's the largest celebration of its kind on Halloween. Hundreds of amazing puppets, 42 bands, and dancers are joined by New Yorkers donning creative and fantastical costumes.
It was voted "The Best Event in the World" for October 31 by Festivals International.
Halloween Costume Carnival
West Hollywood, California
October 31, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Halloween night is less ghoulish and more garish as hundreds of thousands of revelers flock to the famed pageantry along Santa Monica Boulevard in the gay enclave of Los Angeles. Closed to traffic, the spectacle in West Hollywood's parade tries to rival New York City's gala in the West Village with sidewalks jammed with onlookers ogling the show. http://www.weho.org
Key West, Florida
October 23-November 1
Since 1978, Fantasy Fest delivers a series of wild parties every night, subtitled "Villains, Vixens and Vampires" this year and attracting a crowd of 70,000 visitors. Every bar and restaurant offers a theme, such as the Royal Coronation Ball, Vampires Ball, 27th annual Headdress Ball, Monsters Ball, Pet Masquerade Parade, Sloppy Joe's 26th annual Toga Party, and Pirate Bash. The Living Airbrush Contest and Torso Tapestries award the "best living canvas" for illustrated bodies. During the street fair, the Duval Street Promenade showcases costumed characters strutting before the big event: the Fantasy Fest Parade featuring thematic floats, marching bands, dancing groups, and outrageous costumed partygoers circling the route.
On an almost daily basis, plays and presentations, walking tours and fairs are the many ways the town of Salem exploits the legacy of its witch burnings during the 17th century.
Chilling theatrical presentations portray the historical details with 13 Ghosts, Spirits of the Gables, Legacy of the Hanging Judge, Eerie Evenings at the Witch House, among others that relive the 1692 Salem Witch Trials in this small New England town. Walking tours include The Witch Trial Trail, Candlelit Terror Trail, Ghosts, Legends and Lore Tour, and Sam's Trolley Haunted Pub Crawl. Also, there are hip Halloween events such as the Retro Zombie Ball, Festival of the Dead Psychic Fair and Witchcraft Expo, and Vampires Masquerade Ball.