As the days grow shorter, the nights longer and the season of mist rolls in, it is time for the ghosts, ghouls and other scary creatures to begin their annual visits through the streets of the living. It is the time of superstitions; keeping vigil for passing spirits and performing rituals that ward off the ‘ha’ants.’ In other words it is Halloween!
Shortened from “All Hallows’ Eve,” Halloween is one of the western world’s oldest festivals. Derived from an ancient pagan Celtic festival it was surreptitiously incorporated into the Christian Calendar. It marks a series of special religious ceremonies to prepare the people for a feast to honour the saints – Hallowmas.
Halloween made its way to North America after the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-49 drove more than two million Irish to the New World. They brought with them Halloween and the fun and games that go along with it. Children would play "knock-a-dolly," a prank in which they would knock on the doors of their neighbours, but run away before the door is opened. A traditional delicacy barmbrack, a type of fruitcake, would be made and eaten.
In the US some of the traditions underwent changes and “knock-a-dolly” morphed into “trick-or-treating” for candy. During the 1930s the practice of dressing up as witches, scarecrows, mummies and vampires was the norm. In the 1950s decorating front yards and houses with lights and carved pumpkin lanterns became common. Get-togethers with family and friends turned into raucous parties.
Commercialisation has played a large part in many of these changes. There is a whole industry devoted to making costumes and creating Halloween themes for children’s parties. Halloween is now a roughly 7 billion dollar industry making it the second largest festival in the US of A. Local department stores and businesses host parties with games for the whole family and throw in treats for kids as part of their effort to boost sales.
While Halloween is a big event all across the US (second only to Christmas when it comes to holidays), it seems to me that the city of New Orleans has imbued it with a spirit of its own. Perhaps it has something to do with the well-earned reputation for being the most haunted city in the country.
Whatever the reasons, Halloween in New Orleans is now the second biggest party of the year after Mardi Gras. The city has turned Halloween into a weekend long festival of street parades and costume extravaganzas. If you are in New Orleans for Halloween don’t be surprised if you bump into ghastly creatures like vampires, witches or comic superheroes of all ages, sizes and genders wandering around the streets – day and night.
There are plenty of voodoo and costume shops around so you can pick up the accessories that you need to get into your creepiest mood. To really get into the spirit of Halloween in New Orleans you might want to start by taking one of several organised haunted tours.
These ghostly walking tours take you to spooky cemeteries and haunted houses in the Garden District and places where ghosts have been sighted and other supernatural activity reported. They take you through the French Quarter, which boasts of being the most haunted part of the city. In the heart of the Quarter on Royal Street is the La Laurie House, reputeduly the most haunted house in the area. This is where the monstrous Madame LaLaurie tortured and killed her slaves before fleeing to Paris.
New Orleans even has an Official Halloween Parade in the French Quarter, which is renowned for wild times, innovative themes and fantastic floats and costumes. This year promises to be even more visually stunning and unrestrained making New Orleans THE destination for Halloween shenanigans.
Halloween night in 2013 falls on October 31, a Thursday, so all the action will take place the preceding weekend.