The origins of Halloween date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced “sow-in”). A celebration on the evening of October 31 marked the new year that began November 1; the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the long, dark winter. The Celts believed that the ghosts of the dead returned during Samhain, causing trouble but making it easier for the Druids of the learned classes to make predictions about the future. To avoid being recognized by the ghosts returning to the earthly world that night, people wore masks after dark so the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. Sacred bonfires were lit for the occasion, and the Celts wore costumes made from animal heads and skins and told each other’s fortunes.
Once Christianity crept into the Celtic world, November 1 was designated All Saints’ Day — Alholowmesse in Middle English — which led to the evening prior becoming known as All-Hallows Eve and later, Halloween. All Souls’ Day on November 2 replaced Samhain with festivals remarkably similar (albeit church-sanctioned) featuring bonfires and people dressing in costumes as saints, angels and devils.
By the second half of the 19th century, Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine brought their Celtic traditions to America. Halloween was adopted enthusiastically by Americans who dressed in costumes and went door-to-door asking their neighbors for food or money, a practice stemming from early All Souls’ Day celebrations in Europe where poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives.
By the 20th century, civic leaders had succeeded in turning Halloween into a secular holiday more about neighborly get-togethers. With the high numbers of post-World War II baby boomers born, Halloween was directed toward children and moved into the schools, with after-school parades and trick-or-treating an inexpensive way for an entire community to share in celebrating Halloween.
Here in the 21st century Hudson Valley, we have a number of Halloween activities to enjoy, designed for all age groups from tiny tots to teens to adults. Below are a few ideas to celebrate locally.
Thursday, Oct, 25
Town of Gardiner Halloween Parade and Pumpkin Walk
The sixth annual Halloween Parade and Pumpkin Walk in Gardiner will be held on Thursday, Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. (Rain date is Friday, Oct. 26.) This event is geared for very young children who might otherwise be overwhelmed by larger Halloween events. Costumed little ones and their parents will meet at the Gardiner Library/Rail Trail parking lot and parade through the hamlet, ending up at Station Square to enjoy baked goods and locally produced apple cider. Participants are encouraged to carry a flashlight or carved pumpkin with a battery light on the walk.
Thursday, Oct. 25-Sunday, Oct. 28
Haunted Huguenot Street tours in New Paltz
In a decidedly serious approach to Halloween, Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) became Haunted Huguenot Street this month, offering PG-13 tours focusing on the truly scary lack of resources for 18th-century doctors to diagnose and treat infection and disease during the Colonial period.
The last tours for the season will be offered Thursday, Oct. 25 through Sunday, Oct. 28 from 5-10 p.m. (There are no tours on Halloween night.) Attendees will hear of the dangerous diseases that plagued the early New Paltz community and witness theatrical demonstrations of the remedies used in an attempt to cure them. The tour will span almost the entire length of the street, going inside the Abraham Hasbrouck House, the LeFevre House and the French Church and its burial ground.
Meet at the DuBois Fort Visitor Center at 81 Huguenot St. The last tour of the evening leaves at 9 p.m. and pre-registration is strongly recommended, as tours often sell out. Tickets cost $25 or $22.50 for seniors or military personnel and their families, available at https://www.huguenotstreet.org/.
Saturday, Oct. 27
Preschool dance party at Gardiner Library
The Gardiner Library will hold a Halloween-themed Preschool Dance Party with sugar cookie decorating on Saturday, Oct. 27 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Kids ages two to five are invited to come to the library in costume to decorate an assortment of Halloween sugar cookies, play games and show off their dance skills to hip spooky tunes. If there is any concern about dairy or wheat allergies, accommodations may be made with advance notice. The fun takes place in the library community room at 133 Farmer’s Turnpike in Gardiner. For more information, visit www.gardinerlibrary.org or the library’s Facebook page.
Halloween in the Hamlet (Cancelled due to inclement weather)
The Town of Lloyd celebrates Halloween with a family-friendly event in the hamlet of Highland, blocked off to vehicular traffic for the evening. This year’s seventh annual Halloween in the Hamlet on Saturday, Oct. 27 will be held from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Things kick off at 6 p.m. at the Methodist Church as the 20th Century Limited Drum and Bugle Corp lead the Lil’ Goblins parade of costumed kids and their parents through the streets. Prizes are awarded in a number of categories that usually include scariest, prettiest, ugliest, cutest tot, best group, most original and best adult costume. After the parade, kids line up at From Stage to Screen acting studio for Dr. Frankenstein’s Interactive Lab, an agreeably creepy haunted-house type of activity in which kids can test their bravery. Additional attractions were not available at press time, but there’s always the opportunity to warm up with friends and neighbors enjoying monster marshmallows at fire pits on the street manned by members of the Highland Fire Company. Local farms donate apple cider and donuts for the event and festive music is piped through the streets. Traditional trick-or-treating will be held in the hamlet on Wednesday, Oct. 31.
Sunday, Oct. 28
Halloween Zombie Escape 5K in Rosendale, Kids’ 1K Fun Run and 1K Fitness Walk
Runners of all ages are invited to participate in UlsterCorps’ 9th annual Halloween Zombie Escape 5K on Saturday, Oct. 28 at Williams Lake in Rosendale. Participants are given two flags each, like in flag football. The goal is to avoid flag-grabbing zombies on the run and get through the woods with at least one flag and all your brains intact.
Those who do, earn an UlsterCorps Zombie Response Team certification card. Top finishers will earn awards in gender and age-group categories with special awards given to Best Individual Costume and Best Group Costume. There will also be a Team Spirit award. Participants are encouraged to wear costumes or represent their favorite local agency or cause. Runners may also opt to avoid being attacked by zombies and compete in the timed race without wearing the flags. Registration begins at 10 a.m. with the Zombie Escape at 11:30 a.m.
The event includes a bonfire, goodie bags for the first 300 registered runners and volunteers and free hot chocolate and s’mores. The cost is $20 if pre-registered (by noon on Friday, Oct. 26) or $25 on the day of the event. All proceeds benefit UlsterCorps, a nonprofit that serves as a hub for volunteerism in Ulster County, connecting those who wish to volunteer with opportunities that are right for them.
In addition, a free 1K Kids’ Fun Run will be offered at 11 a.m. as well as a 1K Fitness Walk/Hike at 11:45 a.m. The awards ceremony will be held at 12:30 p.m. Williams Lake is located at 434 Williams Lake Road off Binnewater Road in Rosendale. Pre-registration and more information are available at http://zombies.ulstercorps.org/.
(Note: This event was originally scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 27.)
Tuesday, Oct. 30 and Wednesday, Oct. 31
“Wonka’s Twisted Chocolate Factory” haunted house
The New Paltz Youth Program will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its annual haunted house with a special production this year using all new materials and many new set designs. The doors to “Wonka’s Twisted Chocolate Factory” will open at 220 Main St. on Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 6-8 p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 31 from 6-10 p.m. The details on what will be found inside have to remain a secret until opening night, according to youth program director Jim Tinger. Admission costs $5, with all proceeds going to the youth program’s van fund to purchase transportation for field trips.
“All the kids help out with the haunted house in one form or another,” says Tinger, “creating it, acting in it or cleaning up afterward. It’s definitely not a haunted house for little kids — I’d say not for those under ten — but parents know their kids, so it’s up to them. Adults will definitely enjoy it and the actors are a mix of kids and adults.”
The New Paltz Youth Program was recently chosen “Best in the Hudson Valley” by Hudson Valley magazine. For more information, call (845) 255-5140 or visit www.newpaltzyouthprogram.org.
Wednesday, Oct. 31
New Paltz Halloween Parade on Main Street
New Paltz’s annual family-friendly Halloween parade will kick off on Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 6 p.m. Sponsored by the New Paltz Lions Club, the event has been staged with the help of numerous volunteers for half a century, including the New Paltz Police Department, the all-volunteer New Paltz Fire Department and the New Paltz Rescue Squad. Costumed marchers are invited to assemble at the middle school parking lot on the corner of Main Street and Manheim Boulevard. Parking is available on nearby streets (early arrival is recommended) and the sections of the street involved are closed off to traffic for the duration of the parade.
Led by a marching band playing The Addams Family theme, costumed participants head down Main St. to Plattekill Avenue. Taking a left turn, marchers end up at the firehouse, where members of the Lions Club await with apples and full-size Hershey chocolate bars for kids under age 13, the cost of which was undertaken this year by the New Paltz Police Benevolent Association.
Night of 100 Pumpkins at The Bakery in New Paltz
After the parade breaks up, some of the younger revelers typically fan out through the neighborhood for trick-or-treating while others head for The Bakery at 13 North Front Street to view the Night of 100 Pumpkins display of imaginatively carved or painted jack-o’-lanterns. Collectively lit for the night, the jack-o’-lanterns are created by neighborhood residents of all ages and artistic abilities. A tradition in the village since 1990, Night of 100 Pumpkins (from 6-10 p.m.) offers more than 50 prizes for jack-o’-lanterns judged in categories that include “Classic Jacks,” prettiest, most petrifying and most peculiar, selected as such by a panel of artists. Prizes are donated by local merchants, and attendees at the event all receive free pumpkin bread, hot cider and cocoa to enjoy with the accompaniment of live music.
And it’s not too late to enter: carve or paint a pumpkin or two, and bring it to The Bakery on Tuesday, October 30 with your name and age (if 16 or under) written on the back. (Adults, can just write “adult.”) Fill out the entry form (which can also be downloaded on the website) and a free jack-o’-lantern cookie for your efforts. For more information, visit http://www.ilovethebakery.com/halloween/.
Trick-or-treat on Huguenot Street in New Paltz
On Wednesday, Oct. 31, families are welcome to walk Haunted Huguenot Street, trick-or-treating at the historic houses from 3:30-5:30 p.m. A portion of the street will be closed to traffic and the event is free and open to the public. Attendees can expect to meet costumed interpreters representing the street’s centuries-long history, from Colonial-era residents and Revolutionary War soldiers to Victorian-era socialites and Roaring ‘20s flappers. Refreshments will be available at the DuBois Fort Visitor Center at 81 Huguenot Street. There will be a campfire, and the entire street will be decorated for an immersive Halloween experience. For more information, visit https://www.huguenotstreet.org/.