Halloween is most certainly a North American pastime, but this tradition has slowly morphed into a worldwide event for both kids and adults.
I love Halloween … Ever since I was a little kid, I envied the kids I saw, on TV and in movies, who got to dress up and go trick or treating. My all-time favourite Halloween movie is Hocus Pocus, and I’d always dreamed of a world with porches covered in carved pumpkins and skeletons.
Meanwhile, growing up in (hot) Australia and going trick or treating usually meant knocking on people’s doors and them wondering why you were dressed oddly and advising that they didn’t have any candy to give you.
But the sadness of not being a part of this fun tradition, upon turning 18, opened doors to the world of Halloween parties. So here are some stories and experiences of celebrating Halloween, from around the world:
In Brisbane, Australia …
On October 31, it’s warming up (it’s spring), although it’s not that cold in winter, either, but it’s time to celebrate Halloween. Warm weather and inappropriate Aussie humour often means offensive or skimpy costumes.
Stepping inside local bars and clubs can be a mixed bag of effort with decoration—those bars where they have decided to go all out with decorations, and those that don’t do anything. Also, many patrons are caught unawares by “the date,” so bars are filled with patrons, half of whom are in costume and half of whom are regularly clothed.
For my first-ever experience renting a costume, I decided to be Alice in Wonderland and to experience being blonde for an evening. The costume was way too hot, but down the rabbit-hole I went, around Brisbane, eventually losing my blonde wig and having to pay for it after. A mixed bag of Aussies dressed up, and it certainly looked odd with zombies and costumed people wandering around the high-rise downtown core.
In Edinburgh, Scotland …
The perfect setting for Halloween is the old town of Edinburgh, in Scotland with its Reformation-era buildings. Here, this very old town thrives on ghost stories in medieval graveyards, where clubs exist in dungeons and the architecture ensures a haunting backdrop on Halloween.
I decided to host pre-party before going into town on Halloween. I went all out, decorating my apartment with cobwebs and having candles for light. I thought that Scots would be like Aussies and wouldn’t expect much in terms of costume or effort.
Instead, I answered the door to a fully decked-out vampire with white eyes and realistic-looking teeth; and a mummy, completely rolled up from head to toe, with nothing on underneath … (Yes, it was Scotland in the fall, but they still had nothing but bandages wrapped around them).
I was surprised, to say the least, that the town was alive with Halloween spirit, with hundreds dressed in costumes, and decorations everywhere. The eeriness of real graveyards and dungeons added to this effect, as you entered into formidable bars that tried to outdo each other with decorations and costumed staff.
In Krakow, Poland …
During World War II, much of Poland was demolished, and we visited places like Warsaw or Gdańsk, now modern-day hubs, that had been levelled to the ground. But Krakow was a strategic staging point for the Nazis, and it helped preserve this beautiful town from destruction.* Krakow’s castle, overlooking the town and the old cobblestone streets and baroque-style buildings, is an incredible backdrop for Halloween.
And, unbeknownst to my friends and me, the Polish people enjoyed dressing up for Halloween and enjoying a party. Their crypt-like bars were fully decked out in Halloween decorations, with many who were dressed beyond belief in extravagant costumes.
In Moscow, Russia …
What’s odd about wandering around Red Square dressed as Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty? Not much, as soldiers with guns patrol the square, probably thinking how odd Westerners are.
What’s Halloween like in Russia? A lot of fun, but with a city that size you have to be strategic about where to go and enjoy the evening. There are a number of bars that cater to English-speaking patrons and to the unofficial (and at the time illegal) gay district, where a melting pot of nationalities dress up and enjoy All Hallows’ Eve.
One of my favourite bars is a comedy club where Russians (and anyone else who wants to) perform comedy in English. Their Halloween party includes people from Russia, America and Europe, and every person is dressed up and enjoying the evening.
It can feel odd taking the Metro around Moscow, dressed up, with everyone staring at you (being stared at is common when you speak English on the Metro), but as you enter the bars and clubs, you feel less odd and actually underdressed compared to most.
In Brasov, Transylvania, Romania …
With my love of Halloween, I had always wanted to visit its place of origin—Transylvania. Finally, during my eastern European nine-country trip, in 2013, I made it to Romania and Brasov, home of Bran Castle, a.k.a. Dracula’s Castle (www.Bran-Castle.com).
I enjoyed my visit to the gothic and spooky castle, which the staff had decked with carved pumpkins and lanterns. When I came back to town, my hostel was full of Americans and Europeans, who had thought the same thing as me—Celebrate Halloween in Transylvania.
We all got dressed up and headed out in the farm-country town. Locals stared at how odd we looked. We got to the bar and there were no decorations (or anything); it was just another day in Brasov.
You would’ve thought this would be a huge Halloween festival, but it was quite a letdown. But the castle was incredible, and there are always backpackers who want to enjoy these celebrations, no matter where you are.
In Whitehorse, Canada …
North America—finally—a place I can go trick or treating without being considered odd, where dressing up and decorating my house is normal and encouraged.
“Halloween is always when there’s snow on the ground,” I’m constantly being told in Whitehorse. And last year was no exception. It was cold and snowy. But my buddy Trudy and her family invited me to trick or treat in Porter Creek.
It was great fun (I assume this is why people have children, but maybe that’s my thought as a “big kid” myself). I had my bag for treats and, with Trudy’s kids, we knocked on doors yelling, “Trick or treat!” As people opened their doors, Trudy explained, “She’s foreign and it’s her first time …” (making sure I got some candy and also explaining why an adult was trick or treating).
A couple of doors later, I felt a little awkward (apparently adults don’t trick or treat), but I got to live out my childhood fantasy, if only for a short time!