Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble.... All Hallows Eve, as it was originally called, emerged from the ashes of a pagan festival called Samhain in the British Isles which celebrated the dead.
Edinburgh is the place to get in on the action, with its murderous history of bloody sieges, witch-hunts, plagues and battles
It was a chance for medieval ghouls and goblins to flit around on a dark night that heralded the coming of winter. Be part of the tradition and get closer to the darker side of life with a trip to one of these ghoulish destinations.
If an episode of Twilight can raise your pulse rate, then take a bloodthirsty trip to Transylvania to search for the origins of über vampire, Dracula.
Strictly speaking, Bram Stoker’s infamous fictional character has nothing to do with Halloween, but the story behind the cloaked figure is gory enough to inspire thousands of ghoul-hunting tourists to visit Count Dracula’s spiritual home for Halloween weekend.
Stoker was inspired by the tale of Vlad Dracula. He ruled a region of Romania where the Transylvanian and Carpathian Mountains meet (only an hour’s drive north of Bucharest) in the 15th century.
Vlad was particularly fond of killing his enemies by impalement but also enjoyed various other sadistic tortures as appetisers to the main slaying.
Despite frightening his enemies into retreat by leaving thousands of corpses on stakes, Vlad is a national hero for his defence of Christianity against the Ottoman expansion.
You can visit the ruin of Fortress Poenari, Vlad’s lair, which was besieged by the Ottomans, to get a feeling of how the hunter became the hunted.
There’s also Castle Bran in the town of Bransov, which has been restored to suitably gothic standards and has been used in the filming of various Dracula films.
Wrap up a ghoulish sojourn in Romania with a trip to Vlad’s birthplace, Sighisoara (a World Heritage Site); a visit to the nearby Torture Museum should round things off nicely.
If witches with tall pointy hats are more your thing, direct your broom to the Fête des Sorcières in Chalindrey.
Fort Cognelot was the scene of a 16th-century witch-hunt, commemorated now in this sorcery festival, which culminates in an all-night Celtic dance and the crowning of a Mademoiselle Sorcière.
Ghostly films and ghoulish exhibits abound as the town gets in touch with the other side.
As an added bonus, Chalindrey is in the Champagne-Ardenne region, so you can at least drink quality vino while being terrified witless.
‘Guising’ kicked off in Scotland and Ireland, so you have the Celts to thank if any small witches or ghosts come knocking at your door asking for sweets or money.
The Kirk also scooped up Samhain and incorporated it as a rite of passage in the Church calendar, meaning that the tradition continues strongly today.
Edinburgh is the place to get in on the action, with its murderous history of bloody sieges, witch-hunts, plagues and battles. The castle is enough to send your imagination into overdrive, perched on an extinct volcano, dark and brooding and teeming with the ghosts of tortured souls.
Or try the ghost tour of Mary King’s Close, where residents were locked into their homes to prevent the spread of the Black Death in 1645.
The Samhuinn Festival in Edinburgh celebrates the coming of winter and the Celtic New Year.
There’s fire, dancing and folktales in this medieval pageant and it’s free. It kicks off on the Royal Mile on October 31 at 9pm.
Go to http://beltane.org/ for more details.
For metal heads with a hankering for horror, Alice Cooper will be playing in Edinburgh on October 31. He says: “Alice and his band of ghoulish monsters are clawing their way back to the UK for our Halloween tour. We’ll be playing the hits, but there will also be surprises and costume competitions – so dress to excess.”
Londonderry, Northern Ireland
On the banks of the Foyle is a huge festival held in Londonderry (also known as Derry) from October 27 to 31. Costumes are very much de rigueur as you pitch into a throng of witches, monsters, ghouls, vampires and the odd zombie. Spectacular floats lead up to the fireworks finale over the River Foyle.
If your offspring are likely to shrink in horror at the more overblown ghoulishness, head for the family-friendly pumpkin carving and apple bobbing or a pirate cruise down the Foyle.
Londonderry is worth a visit in its own right, packed with museums and activities behind the fortified walls.
New York, the US
The Scots and Irish took Halloween with them to the US when they emigrated, and the American masters of marketing pumped it up and re-exported it around the world in the form of plastic skeletons, an avalanche of candy and a mass frenzy of costume buying. Scottish turnip carving morphed into American pumpkins and trick-or-treating was elevated to an art form.
To enjoy the event in its new home, head to NYC and the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, which boasts outsize puppets levitating down Sixth Avenue.
There’s a different theme every year. This year it’s Tick Tock, allowing you to explore different embodiments of time as “2012 ticks away the final year of the Mayan Calendar” towards the apocalypse.
Best enjoy life while we still can.
One of the best things about the parade is that anyone in costume can join in to dance to the beat of 53 different bands with thousands of other dancers, artists and locals. Apparently it’s called the “nation’s most wildly creative public participatory event in the greatest city in the world”. Hyperbole? You’ll only know if you go.
Salem, the US
In 1692, 20 women were executed for witchcraft in Salem, leaving the town with a grisly reputation. In typical American entrepreneurial fashion, the residents decided to make the most of it and Salem now attracts thousands for tales of witchcraft and butchery.
The Salem Witch Museum is a must. It documents the events of 1692 as well as the history of witchcraft and witch-hunts.
Events include a Mourning Tea where you can honour your beloved dead at a three-course Victorian tea hosted by Salem witch Leanne Marrama.
Or perhaps you’d prefer Professor Wunders’ School of Magic to learn the basics of magic, cast exciting spells and receive a magic glow ring as a gift.
On Halloween itself, you can join the eerie commemorative candle light procession of the Samhain Magick Circle. Wooo hooooooooo.
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