Get spooked: Five sensational Halloween destinations
Day of the Dead Festival in Oaxaca. (Richard I'Anson)
From Samhain, All Souls’ Day and the Day of the Dead, to good old Halloween, the dregs of autumn turn up some seriously inspired celebrations around the globe. With as many names and related festivals as it has arcane traditions, Halloween itself – whose namesake derives from the more evocative ”All Hallow’s Eve” – remains one of the world’s oldest (and perhaps most misunderstood) holidays.
Celebrating the autumnal shift into the long, dark days of winter, it is the essential elements of mystery and morbidity that lend these festivities their bewitching intrigue. Historically, many cultures - from Pagan and Aztec to Celtic - have recognized the last day of October and the first two days of November as a time when the dead were thought to return to earth and walk among the living. Afraid of ghosts? That is what costumes, thought to ward off evil spirits, are for.
So before you write off Halloween as nothing but tricks and treats for the kiddie set, why not head to a city that takes its traditions - not to mention its fun - seriously? From a New Orleans moonlit cemetery tour to the flamboyant debauchery of Hong Kong's hippest party district, these international destinations all come alive at the witching hour.
New York City: Get your groove on with the Village People
Since 1973, this epic parade - rumoured to be the largest Halloween celebration on earth with an estimated two million attendees - has remained an iconic New York moment. Show up early and stake out a prime spot on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village, where the whole city seems to converge in a true melting pot experience.
From the people watching (picture a provocative array of costumes designed to thrill, shock, and defy explanation) to phantasmagoric floats, live bands and circus performers, this event is an only-in-New-York madcap delight. This year's theme, Memento Mori (a Latin phrase that translates to "Remember your mortality") commemorates the 20th year of one of the parade's signature spectacles, the giant, must-be-seen-to-be-believed Day of the Dead puppets. Want to join the parade? Arrive at 6 pm to line up, and don't forget your creative costume.
Oaxaca: Party with the dearly departed at El Diá de los Muertos
Something about the phrase El Diá de los Muertos - that's "The Day of the Dead" in Spanish - simply rolls of the tongue with the kind of mysterious energy that this Mexican cultural capitol exudes. Held on All Saints' Day (1 November) and All Souls' Day (2 November) according to the Catholic calendar, this Aztec-influenced festival commemorates the memory of deceased family, friends, and ancestors.
Throughout this Unesco world heritage site, the candlelit streets overflow with parades, colourful markets and impromptu parties, along with costumed revellers in wildly macabre masks. And do not skip a trip to a panaderia, where a mind-blowing array of morbid sweet treats will be on display. Try a sugar-spun coffin, or the eggy, yeasty pan de muerto (bread of the dead).
Seeking a true local Oaxacan experience? Head to one of the nearby cemeteries, where families spare no effort in their quest to create the most extravagantly decorated gravesite, replete with elaborate flowers and the eerie glow of countless candles. With plenty of singing and dancing, some graveside chicken mole (or another favourite dish of the deceased) and a shot or two of tequila, it is an experience that's as moving as it is magical.
New Orleans: Vampires and voodoo in the Vieux Carré
Take the decadence and debauchery of Mardi Gras. Now add a sexy witch costume, an eerie soundtrack and a dash of voodoo magic, and you have got yourself a N'awlins style Halloween. With a intoxicating dark side that is celebrated all year round, the Big Easy cranks up the fright factor in inimitable style come late October (and with weather that is perfect for parading around in that daring costume). Expect this behemoth of a shindig to last several days, with parades and parties in the streets building to a frenetic energy on the days leading up to the 31 October.