Trick or Treat!

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A favorite holiday is on the horizon. That’s right, it’s autumn! Before we kick off the holiday season of festivals with our annual Thanksgiving feast we spend weeks preparing for what many consider one of the most anticipated holidays of them all. It’s Halloween! Trick or Treat! But before diving into the celebrations that have become synonymous with Halloween in Florida, let’s take a moment to reflect back on Halloween and exactly why it is so popular.

First and foremost, Halloween is one of the oldest holidays. It can be traced back more than 2000 years to Celtic celebrations tied to the end of the harvest. Spirituality was essential to their culture like most cultures of the times. November 1 marked the beginning of the Celtic calendar year called All Hallows. They believed that on October 31, spirits returned from the dead to destroy crops. It was called All Hallows Eve. In order to quell these spirits and protect their crops they held festivals honoring the dead by lighting great bon fires and wearing masks. The festival was known as Samhain.

When the Romans conquered the Celtic lands, over a period of 1000 years they gradually incorporated the festival of Samhain into their own holidays of All Souls Day (November 2) to honor the dead and All Saints and Martyrs Day (November 1) to honor perished Saints and Christian martyrs. The Celtic name for the holiday was kept as All Hallows but a more religious format was adopted by the Pope and they began calling it All-hallowmas or Alholomesse. October 31 remained All Hallows Eve eventually becoming Halloween. The Roman celebrations included bonfires, parades and dressing in costumes similar to the festival of Samhain.


The history of trick or treating can be traced back to All Souls Day where poor families would beg for food. They were given soul cakes (small round cakes filled with raisins or currants and sweet earthy spices like allspice, cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg) in exchange for a promise to pray for the dead of the family showing such generosity.  The legend of the Jack O’ Lantern was derived from an Irish myth about a man named Stingy Jack who was invited to have a drink with the devil. In the end Jack was forced by the devil to wander the dark nights with only a burning coal inside a turnip to light his way. He became known in myth as Jack of the Lantern which evolved to Jack O’ Lantern. One of the most interesting things about Halloween is how it was able to transcend so many different cultures over such an enormous period of time and still maintain its importance and its root beginnings. Sure western culture has manipulated it and commercialized it like everything else but it’s origins are not lost even in the world we live in today. After all, who knows who is watching you even as you read this blog article! Perhaps Jack O’ Lantern is outside your dark window right now!10671210_10100362595537678_327124111188917910_n

Scared yet? If legend isn’t enough, there are plenty of statewide can’t misses for Halloween that are worth exploring. Some are listed below not in any particular order!

Halloween Horror Nights – Universal Studios, Orlando

This annual e100_0082_1ven begins in late September and runs through Halloween. Universal is transformed after the park closes into a realm of monsters and haunts that patrol the streets lurking in the mist and bushes waiting for unsuspecting victims. Each year carries a different theme that showcases everything from notorious Hollywood creeps like Michael Meyers to original creations designed especially for the event such as Bloody Mary. Universal scatters an array of haunted houses throughout the park to support the annual theme. The stuidio devotes a lot of time and attention to Horror Nights. Hundreds of actors audition and are trained specifically for the event. As soon as the curtain closes on one year, the Studio immediately begins working on the next year’s event. Horror nights is not for the squeamish or the very young. The haunted houses are meticulously created and can scare the daylights out of anyone regardless of age. Admission is separate from a day pass so plan accordingly. It gets crowded with long wait times particularly on weekends as you get closer to Halloween.

Scream-A-Geddon – Dade City

This is a newer Halloween attraction located in the sleepy town of Dade City. It is an interesting alternative to the crowds of the big theme parks. With a good number of haunted houses, a midway and even a haunted hayride, Scream-A-Geddon puts a rural twist on Halloween that some might argue are actually scarier than some of the big budget Halloween attractions. Prices are less, lines are shorter and the thrills are all around.

Fright Nights – West Palm Beach

If you’re in South Florida, check out Fright Nights at the South Florida Fair Grounds. This small festival centered around the ultimate scare features haunted houses, music, food and carnival rides. It is well planned and kept fresh from year to year. Check it out!

Whispering Pines Haunted Hayride – Milton

OK, so you want something more relaxing and a place you can bring the kids. Stop by Whispering Pines Christmas Tree Farm in Milton just outside of Pensacola. You’ll be taken in comfort accompanied by haunting music through the tree farm and surrounding forest, home of ghosts and goblins. The super young family members may still be a little frightened, but hey, it’s Halloween. Everyone is entitled to a good scare!

Note: I did hear a group of patrons suffered a zombie attack while on this hayride. They are now offering rides at your own risk. Be warned!

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Howl-O-Scream –  Busch Gardens, Tampa

Howl-O-Scream is Busch Gardens answer to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios. The events are very similar and one could get into an endless debate over which one is better depending on which part of the state you live in. The general consensus is there is not much difference in quality or the level of scare, but Howl-O-Scream is a tad less crowded due to the number of tourists who flock to the Orlando theme parks. It’s worth the price of admission and you can many of the parks famous roller coasters if haunted houses are not your thing!

Orlando Haunted Maze – Orlando

This is a private home that transforms into a haunted house a few weekends around Halloween. All proceeds go to charity. If you want to avoid crowds perhaps this is for you. It’s small in scale, but big on thrills. Oh, you will have to sign a waiver. Enter at your own risk.

Long and Scott Farm’s Corn Maze – Mount Dora

imgresWhat is Halloween without a good corn maze? We have the ultimate at Long and Scott Farms in Mount Dora. These people design some awesome mazes! They are open on the weekends in October with a wide variety of things to do for all ages. In addition to their 7-acre corn maze that is redesigned each year, try out fishing or a relaxing autumn hay ride. The kids can play on the playground while you browse the market. This is great family friendly outdoor fun. You know it’s special when they have to show you an instructional video before entering the maze!

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party – Magic Kingdom, Disneyimages World

Of course, the mouse has to get in on the Halloween action as well. The party is a separate
ticket from the daily admission to the park just like Horror Nights and Howl –O-Scream. This is probably a once in a lifetime event for the kids and definitely for the parent’s pocket book. But if you love the mouse and can’t get enough Disney, this is your event. Kids under 14 can dress up (within reason; no masks) and trick or treat throughout the magic kingdom. There are costumed characters, parades, Disney icons and a Halloween themed fireworks show all set to celebrate, what else? The Disney villains! Only Disney can celebrate All Hallows Eve in such a fashion that is not so scary and make wishes come true even in the presence of ghouls and witches.

Okay, we covered most of the state, but these are just a handful of places you may want to explore in Florida this Halloween season. For a list of more, visit http://www.floridahauntedhouses.com.

Trick or Treat!!

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