Travel
4 min

7 great Halloween celebrations in North America

Wild, weird and wonderful, Halloween is now a major gay holiday

Winged crusaders head to the Halloween Parade in New York's Greenwich Village. Credit: halloween-nyc.com

Although Halloween was originally a Celtic invention (and turnip or rutabaga was the pumpkin’s far tougher predecessor), October’s last stand is not nearly as widespread a wild night in Europe as it has become across the Atlantic. And nowhere is it wilder, weirder or more wonderful as in gay neighbourhoods across the continent, where Halloween pirouetted its way into gay life and is now a major holiday. Some gay village Halloween celebrations, however, such as Halloween in The Castro in San Francisco, became victims of their own success, getting so popular that they were eventually cancelled for safety reasons.

These days, the big four fright-night bookings are West Hollywood in Los Angeles, Church Street in Toronto, Greenwich Village in New York and Bourbon Street in New Orleans, but other excellent and eerie options keep creeping up the list, all the way from the Florida Keys to Hawaii. So dress or undress for the night and treat yourself to a trip to one of these sexy, spooky soirees. It’s the perfect opportunity to be yourself — or, if you get that costume just right, to be someone else entirely.

1. West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval, Los Angeles
The world’s largest Halloween party takes an otherwise innocuous Thursday at the end of October and gives it a whole new character. Half a million rambunctious revellers take to the streets of the West Hollywood gaybourhood for a wild night of costumes and craziness. In fact, so many people come to the festival that the city of 35,000 metamorphoses into the US’s seventh-largest city for the night. There are three stages and performance areas (with such enticing names as The Drag Hotel of Horrors, Thrills and Chills, and The Dungeon of Sin), plus three dance areas, and more than a dozen food trucks cater to the costumed throngs. This frenzied free street party kicks off at 6pm and cavorts along until 11pm. With so many people in such a festive mood, many of WeHo’s bars, clubs and hotels make a weekend of it by running Halloween events in the days before Santa Monica Boulevard’s gargantuan gay affair.

2. Church Street’s Halloween Night Party, Toronto
Although somewhat scaled down from the weeklong celebrations in Toronto previous years, Oct 31, 2013, will see three blocks of Church Street closed from 7pm until 2am for seven hours of costumed revelry and buckets of eye-candy. Even though the temperature doesn’t always go with the more daring outfit choices, the street is swiftly packed with thousands of scantily attired locals and visitors, making this Canada’s largest Halloween event. If you’re planning on going to the Halloween Fetish Ball on Saturday, Oct 26, the trick is to treat yourself to a ticket early; last year was a sell-out event.

3. Village Halloween Parade, New York
It’s the 40th annual costumed canter for both Village people in New York and those who come downtown to get in on the action — or simply to gawk at hundreds of puppets, bands, dancers, performance artists, and thousands of New Yorkers in outrageous outfits and headdresses, wigs and wings. The Halloween Parade struts down Avenue of the Americas at 6pm on the 31st with 30,000 participants and two million spectators. You have to be in costume to join the parade, and make sure you look good: undercover agents comb the crowds for the best costume. A slew of LGBT All Hallow’s Eve antics take place throughout the city in the run-up to the big day, including the intimidating Scared Gay nights at the haunted Blood Manor.

4. Halloween New Orleans
After 30 years of exuberant, edgy spectacles, New Orleans really knows how to throw a killer Halloween party. Starting on Thursday, Oct 24 and shimmying its way through to Sunday, Oct 27, the Big Easy's 2013 spectacular celebrations leave the die-hard Halloween fan free to hit events in WeHo, New York or Toronto on the 31st itself. This year’s flurry of flamboyant events is themed around weddings and the Chapel of Love and benefits Project Lazarus, a local wellness home for people living with HIV/AIDS. Paying homage to its roots, in 2013 the Gay Bachelor Party returns to the Civic Theatre on Friday, Oct 25 — it’s where the first big event was held, in 1984.

5. Halloween in Lahaina, Maui
The historic whaling town of Lahaina has the hottest Halloween in all Hawaii. Known as the (belated) Mardi Gras of the Pacific, the festivities on Front Street have been celebrated since 1980. It’s officially family-friendly, but local LGBT folks have made this celebration their own over the years.

6. Fantasy Fest, Key West
The biggest event in the Florida Keys fall social lineup — and the busiest day of the year in gay-adored Key WestFantasy Fest has been cavorting through the streets of the quirky Conch Republic for more than three decades. Refusing to show its age, this 10-day treat runs Oct 18 through 27 and is as youthful, fanciful and boisterous as ever. This year’s theme is Superheroes, Villains and Beyond, and highlights include the Captain Morgan parade past the LGBT venues of Duval Street on Saturday, Oct 26 and the fang-tastic, mile-long street party the night before.

7. Halloween Block Party, Dallas
Texas’s biggest block party bounds back with a vengeance in 2013, with tens of thousands of revellers taking over two blocks of the Dallas gaybourhood for costumed catwalks, beer booths and general gaiety. With LGBT superclub Station 4, sports bar TMC, drag cabaret bar The Rose Room, crossroads anchor JR’s (jrsdallas.com) and lesbian mecca Sue Ellen’s all in on the action, it’s lining up to be one Texas-sized party on the night of Saturday, Oct 26, from 6pm until 2am.