It’s the week before Halloween and it’s gripping LA.
For most of October shops have been selling Halloween “cookies”, decorating kits to make-your-own cookies, decorations, purple-orange-and-black themed stuff, eyeballs and everything you could possibly imagine in between.
Then there’s the transformation of the theme parks.
What to do in LA during Halloween
Disneyland decorates the park in Halloween orange and the Haunted House at California Adventure takes on a different dimension. Knott’s Berry Farm turns into Knott’s Scary Farm and Universal Studios does Halloween Horror Nights where they turn the park into an episode of your worst nightmare. Universal Studios does it the best–as it should, it’s a movie studio. Unfortunately you’ll have to experience this one yourself because I don’t think there’s any way this LA Blogger is going to be able to endure a night of horror. Despite knowing it’s not real the combination of the dark and the real live actors walking around actually scaring you (it’s their job!) makes it all too real. And then Six Flags (Magic Mountain) does Fright Fest.
I’m not quite sure how Halloween became so big here but it is bigger than big and despite all the spooky stuff it’s fun and festive. Many houses go all out. It’s a great pre-cursor to Christmas–there are some houses who don’t do anything, some with a touch of spook and others who go all out they put the Griswalds to shame. I just learnt of one house not far from us that has its own website, Facebook page and Twitter account. Yep, that’s what I thought.
I love Halloween here. I fell in love with the concept of Halloween when I was in Shanghai and one of my son’s friends’ family invited us for a Halloween party in their compound. Still relatively new and looking for more friends we were so thankful to be invited I just went into full-blown Halloween mode. I rushed off to the Fabric Markets and got a costume made for Mr H and I. He was Fred Flinstone and I was Wilma. Fun. Until we got there and realised the adults weren’t dressing up it was just the kids! Didn’t think to ask that question did I? We still laugh about that night to this day and they’re now good friends of ours despite rarely catching up in person.
On the Facebook page of the Griswald house (well not actually the Griswald house but Boney Island) one lady commented, “I miss Halloween in America, no one does Halloween like America”. Well duh. Halloween is actually an American “holiday”. Sure, it exists in other countries in different forms, but Halloween as the concept we know it today started here.
Certainly in more recent years in Australia we’ve been dressing up and trick or treating. I can recall a time not that long ago when the kids were still young when a note was put in our letterbox by a neighbourhood mum with a balloon attached. The note said that they were planning on trick or treating in the neighbourhood and if we as a house were participating we could blow up the balloon, tie it to our letterbox and we would be visited. No balloon=no visit. This year there will be more Australian kids in the neighbourhood and more houses being decorated so I guess the Americanisation of the world continues to a degree. (Some people in Australia hate Halloween for this exact reason).
But America is without question home to the Halloween tradition. Here people come to work dressed up. Mr H was gobsmacked when he got to work last year to see so many people dressed up (he didn’t get the memo). The kids go to school dressed up and local businesses like my hairdresser come dressed up. No wonder it’s many people’s favourite “holiday”.
We had our first American Halloween last year. We were very green, still finding our way around and still (quite frankly) shell-shocked. In the week leading up to Halloween everyone was asking where we were trick or treating. Wait, what. What do you mean? I just assumed that everyone trick or treats in their neighbourhood. Apparently not. Kids congregate in friendship groups and visit neighbourhoods who do a “good trick or treat”. Others (like in my daughter’s year) have parties where we get together for pizza and wine then visit their neighbourhood to trick or treat because it’s a good area for it. We went on the kids school street last year. There were hundreds there. The street even gets closed off they anticipate that many people. That’s a lot of lollies, ahem, candy.
The atmosphere is so festive, it’s like a giant street party it’s so fun. We were blown away but the sheer number of people, the extent people went to for Halloween and the distances people travelled to get to the “good trick or treat spots”. We spoke to a few people who said they travelled for miles to get there and all go by bus. There are websites that rate and suggest areas for people to go. My first thought was I wonder if they tell people when they buy the house that that’s what they’re up for.
But it’s not just about Halloween, it’s also about pumpkins. People go to pumpkin farms (which are all over the place) to find their pumpkin and carve it to make Jack O’ Lanterns. And make a day of it because it’s evolved over the years to include farm-type activities like hay-rack rides and corn mazes.
Jack O’ Lanterns date back to Celtic days and it’s believed the Irish took the tradition over here when they came to America. But the Irish carved turnips to make their lanterns; they found pumpkins when they came here and deemed them perfect for carving and the rest, as they say, is history. I’d never heard of them really carving pumpkins in the UK so I asked a few friends. In Wales, like the Irish, they would carve suedes (another type of vegetable) and as pumpkins have become more mainstream and affordable they too have started carving pumpkins. My English friends also say they’re starting to do it more now but don’t recall doing it when they grew up. I guess like Australia their Halloween is being Americanised too.
It seems these pumpkin farms then turned into a family day out–mazes, horse & cart rides, fresh produce and of course family photos.
I got my pumpkins at the supermarket–with no fanfare–and haven’t carved it. Many people don’t carve theirs these days and that’s ok too.
I’ve never seen so many pumpkins as I have here. They’re everywhere. What’s even stranger–to us when you think about it–is that these pumpkins are grown to carve and display and not to eat. Can you tell I find this whole pumpkin thing very intriguing? I’m sure if you left America, though, you’d find it completely strange that there are no pumpkin farms let alone pumpkins available en mass. That’s what makes us all different.
Probably my favourite thing about this time of the year though is the “smell” of Fall. This smell is an invented smell; it’s not like the smell of jasmine to signal spring and summer are on their way it’s the smell of spices like cloves and cinnamon and apple pie (“holiday” smells). You can buy these smells in the form of pre-mixed spices to simmer away on your stove, or in the form of candles or plug-ins. Whatever emotion it’s touched in me it makes me feel at peace and at home. (I hope this Americanisation takes off at home by the time we move back).
Another thing that surprised me although now that I think of it I don’t know why has got to do with lollies. I might have mentioned at Easter (or maybe I wasn’t being very specific) that “candy” comes out that you’ve never seen before–because lollies here tend to be seasonal. There’s no better example than candy corn. It makes an appearance for Halloween and it’s pretty hard to get hold of at other times in the year. There are also the obvious things like pumpkin flavoured everything lollies but our carpool kids were telling us they associate other lollies like America’s version of Malteaser’s, Whoppers, with Halloween because they mainly tend to come out then. (This is probably due to the 50 kilo bags of mixed chocolates you get at Costco or Target for trick or treating.)
So that’s Halloween in a nutshell. Happy trick or treating wherever you are!
xx It Started in LA xx
PS: I keep putting speech marks around the world “holiday”. See I can’t help myself. That’s because a “holiday” is an event (like Halloween or Valentine’s Day). When I first heard my friend say Halloween was her favourite holiday I thought they got the day off in America. I thought that was so cool but alas no, no day off. Vacation is the American word for holiday and, well, there’s no Australian version of the word “holiday” because all our holidays are days off!