For millennia, cultures around the world have recognized the end of October into early November as a time to memorialize, honor, pay tribute to, and generally get freaky about the dead. From the Celts to the Aztecs to the pagans, it’s a tradition that seems to cross all boundaries. For contemporary Halloweeners, it usually culminates in lots of drinking, lewd behavior, and outlandish costumes. Here are three destinations that boast the world’s best Halloween festivals.
The Village, New York City
Nowhere in New York City knows how to party like the Village, so it’s no surprise the neighborhood is purportedly home to the largest Halloween celebration on the planet. The annual event sees more than 2 million attendees descend on the area in and around Sixth Avenue. The people-watching is second to none with revelers and performers decked out in all manner of shock-inducing costumes (or next to nothing at all). Every year brings a new and creative theme to the parade. For 2017, it’s “Cabinet of Curiosities: An Imaginary Menagerie,” which is inspired by cryptozoology, hybrid beasts of mythology, and P.T. Barnum-esque curiosities. If you fancy joining the parade, be sure to line up by 6 pm and remember that a costume is mandatory — the weirder the better.
New Orleans, Louisiana
From the city that combines a love of voodoo — a culturally ingrained fixation on the dead (it’s popularly called “the most haunted city in America”) — and the out-of-this-world debauchery of Mardi Gras, it’s no surprise New Orleans knows how to party. The city’s multi-day Halloween spectacular begins on the days leading up to October 31 with nonstop parades, live music, street parties, and ungodly amounts of drinking. It’s like a sideways version of Mardi Gras, but with a darker, “black magic-esque” slant. The celebrations cling to some semblance of “family-friendly” during the day. But, once the sun goes down, every night is a boozy, bead-laden bacchanal where almost anything goes. If you need a do-good reason to go, it’s worth noting that 100 percent of the proceeds from Halloween New Orleans go to supporting Project Lazarus, a grassroots initiative that helps provide housing to people living with HIV/AIDS.
Mexico’s world-famous Diá de los Muertos celebrations take place throughout the country every November 1-2 (All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day respectively). The cultural capital of Oaxaca is ground zero for Day of the Dead, especially for foreigners seeking the most authentic version of the holiday. The city comes alive with brilliant markets, street parties, musical parades, and macabre costumes. On the surface, the Aztec-inspired holiday may seem grim, but there’s an ever-present optimism as families gather to commiserate and honor deceased friends and family. Head to a panadería (bakery) for traditional Day of the Dead treats like pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and sugar-spun coffins.
Feature image courtesy of Krewe of Boo/Facebook.