Liza May

HST 2016 Update #1 - Halloween For Dummies

It's Open Season! 47 Days!

You wouldn't know it, but there are actually other things happening in life, besides the US Presidential election and the US Open Swing Dance Championships.

Great dance events, for instance! All around the world!

Like the fabulous Halloween party in Los Angeles called Halloween Swing Thing.

I attended HST last year for the first time and had a blast. It's a relaxed, no-stress, party kind of event; friendly, welcoming, schedule packed with activities from the beach party and boardwalk club-hopping Thursday through the final all-nighter on Sunday, and terrific social dancing.

You tell a bunch of creative, competitive artist types to go all-out with costumes, makeup, room decorations (the hotel allows trick or treating in the halls!), haunted-houses, impromptu skits and over-the-top routines ...

You can imagine ...

I'm hearing this year's HST is going to be quite a trip, so I'm going back! I'll be taking pictures, and hope to publish a few Updates over the weekend to describe the shenanigans.

In the meantime ... Do you know what Halloween actually is? Why, all around the world, people dress up in outlandish costumes and go begging for food?

Here's a little Halloween History ...


On October 31st, 3,000 BCE, the Ancient Celts had a huge party. They were celebrating their yearly festival they called "Summer's End" ("Samhain" in Gaelic, pronounced "sow-inn".)

October 31st - half way between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice - marked that time of year when harvest was over, cattle were brought down from summer pastures, and livestock were slaughtered for the winter. "That time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest and magical things could happen"* and the spirits of the dead would come out to eat, talk, and party with the living. They'd build huge bonfires and wear costumes made of animal heads and furs, roving house-to-house singing songs in exchange for special foods; and they'd prepare huge feasts to share around the bonfires; and play special games, including apple-dunking and nut-rolling contests.


In 601 AD Pope Gregory I had his hands full trying to figure out how to convert Pagans to the new Christianity. Gregory wrote a letter to his friend Bishop Mellitus with a great idea.

Instead of destroying Pagan temples, a tactic which wasn't working as well as he wanted, he had a better plan. Mellitus should send his men inside the temples, to replace the statues of idols with statues of Christian saints in their place!

And he had another, even better, idea. Move the Christian celebration of "All Hallows' Day" (we know it as "All Saints Day") from May, when they usually celebrated, to October 31st! Replace that giant pagan celebration of Samhain with a Christian celebration instead!

And thus Halloween (or "All Hallows Eve") was born.


Today Halloween is celebrated around the world, but with different levels of acceptance due to resistance to the influence of American pop and commercial culture.


China has long had its own version in July, the "Hungry Ghost Festival," the Phillipines celebrate "Pangangaluluwâ" where they roam house-to-house singing for treats; in Italy All Saints' Day is a public holiday so the evening before is less Halloweenish and more the eve of a religious celebration; in anti-Western Russia the Kremlin is trying hard to eliminate the holiday completely; and in Switzerland they're suffering from "festival overload" in general although the Swiss will put on costumes and party for almost any reason.


In the US we have our own colorful history of Halloween acceptance and resistance, including Puritan rejection of immoral gaiety and public display, long-held historical rivalries between immigrant groups, and American commercialism of every holiday and every everything else.


We Americans love our holidays, we love parties, and we love spectacle and big splashes. We have huuuuuge Halloween parades (in New York 50,000 costumed marchers parade up Sixth Avenue every year;) Halloween concerts, plays, block parties, kid parties, and of course trick-or-treating.

But the best of the bestest of all, the most funnest Halloween party in the whole world ...

Halloween Swing Thing!

The Halloween Party for West Coast Swing dancers!

Are you READY?!?

  1. Steve Roud, "A Pocket Guide To Superstitions Of The British Isles"
  2. Brittania Historical Documents

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