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Rob Morris
Rob Morris

Halloween Evolved: From One Night of Trick-or-Treat to a Bag Full of Family Events

Oct 22, 2018

Halloween used to be a simple thing.


Parents would take their kids by the “five and dime store” to pick up a costume that featured flimsy plastic masks that attached to your head with a flimsy piece of elastic that kept breaking. The rest of the outfit was typically made of thin plastic that tied over your clothes like a decorated hospital gown. There was also the classic ghost costume: a sheet with holes cut out for the eyes. Woe unto the kid whose family had no white sheets to spare and who ended up as the dreaded “plaid ghost.”


From there it was a simple sprint out the door to roam the neighborhood gathering up the treats. Some nights the family would bundle up a bunch of neighborhood kids in the station wagon and haul them all over to the affluent neighborhoods where it was rumored you could score full-size candy bars! This was easier in the days before gated communities. While the rumors were never true, it was still a dazzling and beloved night for kids because the last task before bedtime was dumping your Halloween haul onto the living room floor so that you could sort and count up the sugary treasure. This was followed by the inevitable battle with mothers who insisted that you were going to ration the candy over the next six months or so.


These days the entire Halloween landscape has changed. Instead of a simple, one-night dash for candy, you’ll find Halloween-oriented events designed to draw entire families out for community-oriented fun. In Moore, these events include the City of Moore’s “Mummy Son Dance,” the “Trail of Fears,” and the Old Town Association’s “Haunt Old town.” But there is also a long list of church-sponsored events as well, many of them opting for a “Fall Festival” or “Trunk or Treat” theme over the spookiness of Halloween. But the bottom line is that there are a plethora of events that fall under the Halloween umbrella.


How did we get here?


If you want to go ALL the way back to the VERY beginning, you’ll find it began with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced “SOW-in” with the “ow” like “cow”). Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the cold, dark winter and was often associated with death. The Celts believed that on this day, typically November 1, the line between life and death was blurred and the ghosts of the dead would return to earth. So each year people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off those ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 2 as “All Saints Day.” It’s an appropriate name for a day intended to honor all of the saints. It didn’t take long for those celebrating All Saints Day to blend in some of the Samhain traditions. The evening before All Saints Day was known as All Hallows Eve, a name that eventually became “Halloween.” Among the early traditions in England was to leave bowls of food outside homes to appease ghosts and to wear masks while outside so that ghosts would mistake the living for fellow spirits.


In early America, the melding of these different European beliefs, along with some Native America traditions, produced various parties and harvest festivals. But it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that we began to see the tradition of dressing up in costumes and going house-to-house asking for food or money. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Halloween had lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones.


That brings us to the past couple of decades and the explosion of Halloween-related activities. Kathy Gillette, President, and CEO of the Moore Chamber of Commerce believes the shift to more community and family-oriented Halloween activities happened as a result of safety concerns and retail opportunity.


“When we were young we just went door-to-door on Halloween trick-or-treating because that was just the thing everyone did,” said Gillette. “I think we went through a period where parents became more concerned about the dangers of going door-to-door, and retail grabbed that and ran.”


One of the ways that businesses and retail ran with those concerns was with the creation of community-centered events like “Haunt Old Town.” These events, which often take place on days or nights other than October 31, are designed to draw large numbers of families to a business district where they can go store-to-store or from tent-to-tent and take care of their children’s desire to trick-or-treat. Gillette sees the development as a win-win for families and businesses.


“I think it's a great thing because instead of sending your kids out door-to-door now you have parents directly involved,” said Gillette. “We obviously love it for the businesses in Old Town because the Haunt Old Town event has grown from a few thousand to many thousands of people who now get to spend time in the area and see how much fun it is.”


Terece Sandini and her family are among the Moore residents who are excited about the evolution of Halloween. She remembers trick-or-treating with her siblings in the Kelly Elementary neighborhood.


“I remember my sisters and I would take pillow cases as our trick or treat bags,” said Sandini. “My dad would walk us up and down each street of our neighborhood until our legs just couldn’t go anymore and our pillow cases were full. We thought that was so cool!”


With a newly built home in the Plaza Towers neighborhood, Sandini intends to continue that tradition with her children. But she also enjoys all of the community activities that are available for families.


“We have more opportunities to take our kids to the cute little fall carnivals that each of the local churches host,” said Sandini. “With our busy schedules it allows us to take a different grandparent or aunt to the different activities, really getting the family involved in each memory.”


Chris Villani, the City of Moore’s Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation, says his team has been paying close attention to community events like these in other cities for years.


“I remember when I was a kid it was just one night where you went out trick-or-treating,” said Villani. “That’s all changed now. I think over time cities, and communities have developed new programs and activities to incorporate into Halloween.”


Villani said the City’s annual “Mummy Son Dance” is an excellent example of an idea that was quickly embraced by the community.


“We had been keeping an eye on one city that was trying a Mummy Son Dance,” said Villani, “And about six years ago we thought we’d give it a try at the old community center.”


Staff for the City of Moore wasn’t quite sure what they would see for that first “Mummy Son Dance.” What happened exceeded their expectations.


“It was a huge success right from the beginning,” said Villani. “I want to say we had around 700 tickets that were sold that first year. Since that moment we've had a success on her hands and have continued just to watch it grow.”


Moving to The Station at Central Park has only allowed the event to become more significant. Villani said his staff has added new programs and activities, including a “haunted room” along with more prizes and games. The success of the event has also led to other events, like the popular “Trail of Fears.”


“The “Trail of Fears” is something we came up with while we were at a movie-in-the-park event over at Little River Park,” said Villani. “We kind of noticed the wooded area in the back of the park and someone joked about how much fun it would be to have a haunted Halloween trail there.”


The joke became an idea that the City of Moore ran with and found great success.


“We were actually the first city that I'm aware of that has put on a “Trail of Fears” as a part of their park and recreation department,” said Villani. “So that was something we just kind of came up with out of the blue, that we were excited to do and it's been really successful.”


Villani and Gillette agree that we likely haven’t seen the end of the evolution of Halloween. There seems to be plenty of room for more family and community-oriented activities to find their way onto the calendar.


“You just never know what’s going to come up next,” said Villani. “We just want to keep our community involved. I think October and Halloween are great times because there are so many things you can do.”


Gillette said, “Obviously we're going to be in favor of any events that provide this kind of opportunity for families for kids and for businesses we think it's a winner for everyone.”

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