Halloween site started as a showcase for our costumes, but as it began
to grow into other areas I realized how many disparate traditions
comprise this thing we collectively refer to as Halloween. I
realize other countries have their own traditions, but here are the
elements that are prominent here in the States.
Treating - This is the first Halloween tradition we are
exposed to as kids, and it's probably the one we all still think of
first when someone mentions Halloween. However, it's composed of
several elements, so it is important to dissect this tradition to see
how these factor into this and translate into other Halloween
- Dressing up as someone else is at the heart of Halloween, and
(other than all the princesses and super heroes) costumes usually draw
upon supernatural elements and scary characters, which is an important
element of the occasion as well.
- There's no better way to reinforce a tradition than with a
reward like this for showing up and following through.
Treat" - Although this is just a short script kids recite
without really appreciating its meaning, it gets at the dark side of
the holiday, that there's a consequence in store for those who don't
participate. Pranks and scares are built into the very fabric of
Halloween even if it's an empty threat by children who aren't even
aware of the origin of the phrase.
house - This is such a huge deal for us. It was
literally one of the reasons why we bought a house in the first place:
simply to decorate it. While this isn't as wide-spread a
tradition as decorating the house at xmas, I feel like it's the one
with the greatest opportunity for originality. Whereas xmas
decorations are centered around how many lights you can put on the
edges of your house, Halloween requires more imagination (to do it
right, anyway) and there's no upper limit or required theme(s) to stick
to. Decorations can range from Jack o'lanterns on the front porch
all the way up to a full conversion to a dilapidated haunted house or a
crashed flying saucer.
- This is an obvious combination of the above:
decorating the house and dressing up. Of course, you also get to
decorate the inside of the house, and that's become as much fun for us
as decorating the outside and the yard.
houses - These were always a big deal to me as a kid
because they were like walking through a movie instead of watching
it. The local Boy Scouts put on one in our neighborhood when I
was growing up, and they always did an impressive job of incorporating
humor and so many facets of Halloween. We try to visit a haunted
house attraction (or two) just about every year. Haunted houses
are a tradition unto themselves and a big draw. It's funny how
even evangelicals (read: Jesus freaks), the most anti-Halloween
demographic in this country, try to co-opt the tradition and use scare
tactics to enforce behavior that conforms to their dogmatic readings of
focus - TV, movies, music, etc. all touch upon Halloween.
- Horror movies are released in late-September/early October in
order to cash in on the build leading up to Halloween.
- Everything from local UHF stations to the SyFy
channel traditionally holds horror movie marathons. Network
television has produced countless Halloween specials and has re-run
many of the same for decades (the most famous being "It's the Great
Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"). Additionally, Halloween-themed episodes
of regular tv series are to be expected.
Picture Show - This is replayed pretty much every year on
one tv station or another, but it's also a big draw in theaters around
Halloween, with many theaters only bringing it out around the holiday
whereas they wouldn't otherwise show it on a weekly basis.
- Parody and Halloween-themed songs are frequently dusted
off around this time of year. No Halloween compilation disc is
complete without "The Monster Mash," for example. Playlists
almost inevitably include the Ghostbusters
theme song and "This Is
Halloween" from The Nightmare Before
- The news, especially the local news, always has a
Halloween-themed focus around this time of year, usually visiting a
supposedly haunted house or some such.
- I'm sure every community sees their own variation of
these, but here are a few that spring to mind that we have done in the
- Our local pug rescue puts on what is essentially a costume
contest for dogs, pugs being the one breed who will without exception
tolerate being dressed up any way you care to.
the Zoo - The Fort Worth Zoo has at least a couple of
Halloween-themed weekends for kids to go Trick or Treating on the
- For example, Six Flags has a "Fright Fest" every year
around Halloween. Movie-themed parks do similar, usually drawing
from movies for material, of course.
- These usually get rolled into other events like
costume parties or the aforementioned Pug-o-ween. There was even
one at a haunted house we visited a couple years ago.
- These are usually rolled into other traditional
happenings such as parties or other festivities
- This quaint tradition goes a long way back, and it
seems almost out-dated now, but it is almost invariably mentioned in
connection with Halloween parties.
- It just makes sense to have a group do all their
carvings at the same time.
practical jokes - It's the "trick" in "Trick or
Treat?" YouTube is full of hilarious videos of people scaring
their friends either in costume or with props and animatronics.
- Things like caramel corn or candied apples are
synonymous with Halloween. Candy manufacturers produce
Halloween-specific candies such as those shaped like bats or spiders or
severed body parts. Additionally, there are a lot of
artistic presentations such as cakes that look like spiders, and so
on. See my page on "Halloween Bites."
and associations - While I cover more concrete things
above, Halloween also has its own atmosphere. There are certain
looks and styles that are expected and are even exclusive to the
holiday in ways even xmas lacks.
- Classics like blood dripping or slime oozing, and gothic fonts
that are all appropriate for horror movie posters or Halloween party
- While I can't claim any particular music genre or
styling is indigenous to Halloween, there are many that derive from the
same DNA. Heavy metal and psychobilly, for example, draw upon
many of the themes (both lyrically and musically) as other
- Ghosts, spiders, blood, skeletons, monsters, low-lying fog,
etc. It's hard for me to see a pumpkin without thinking that's
it's an uncarved jack o'lantern.