Every holiday has their specialty items: Conversation hearts, egg-shaped Reese’s peanut butter cups, cookies shaped like Christmas trees. Halloween certainly has it’s own signature items, especially in terms of candy but it also has plenty of other spooky celebrations, tasty treats, and dastardly decorations exclusive to the season.
As someone who’s a fan of all things Halloween, I’ve come to have a few favorite things about the Halloween season, things that bring out the fun and the fear of the holiday. I share those things with you here in the hope that you may find a new book or dessert or candle to help put you in the Halloween spirit.
I’m a sucker for candles, especially ones with unique scents of ones that reference something I love. Websites like Etsy have allowed creative people to share their custom products with the world, and one of my favorite things to look for on these sites is candles. You can find all kinds of candles on Etsy, including lots of ones that are perfect for Halloween. Some of my favorite Halloweeny candles are:
Black Flame Candle (The Melting Library) – For all us Hocus Pocus lovers out there! This candle smells sweet-but not overwhelmingly so- with hints of spice and mustiness, although the mustiness may just be in my head, as I imagine the black flame candle has gathered quite a bit of dust as it’s waited 300 years to be relit. All of the candles from this shop are related to a fandom of some sort, and all the ones I’ve purchased have smelled absolutely wonderful! Plus, the labels are cleverly designed as old library checkout cards with details specific for that candle. An all around great shop and a perfect Halloween scent.
Haunted Manor (Anthology Candles) – Buy this candle if you dare! But seriously, anyone who loves this famous Disney attraction will want this candle. It smells just like Gracey Manor: old and dusty, with a hint of dead flowers and graveyard dirt. It’s quite a unique scent (and far better smelling than it sounds), and the purple coloring evokes the muted shades of the ride as well. A hauntingly great candle and just one of the great Disney scents available from this shop.
Foggy Knight (Novelly Yours) – Earl grey, wood smoke, and blood spatter: what better to remind you of London’s most notorious serial killer? Not only does this candle evokes shades of a night in Victorian England, but it looks amazing as well. Some might find it a bit macabre, but isn’t that what you want from a Halloween candle? This is another shop with book-themed candles, and they have plenty of villainous candles to get you more into the darker side of Halloween.
I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. Any genre, any topic, any length: I’ll at least give the book a try. Although I like books of all types, I’ve always had a fondness for those with a darker side. Fluff reads are fine from time to time, but give me conflict, give me a mystery, give me a spider patiently spinning its web before going for the kill- if I can’t be convinced to put the book down, then the author has done their job. For the past two years, I’ve dedicated the month of October to the scary books, the ones with creatures lurking in the dark, footsteps echoing in empty hallways, and body counts too high to count on one hand. While some of these books have turned out to be less astounding or less frightening than my scaredy cat friends have claimed, I’ve still managed to find a few winners:
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – This book isn’t scary by any means, but the fantastical world of the circus embodies all the magic and wonder of a childhood Halloween. Celia and Marco are both wonderfully complex and clever characters, and although theirs is ultimately a love story, there’s quite a bit of murder, misdirection, and mayhem before they get to their happy ending. This book is easily one of my all-time favorites, and it will likely become an annual Halloween read.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – Don’t let the movie put you off reading this book. The original story, which takes place over the course of three books, is much more sinister than the film makes it out to be. The antique photos that served as inspiration for the main characters are both fascinating and eerie to examine, and the premise of the story overall is a lot of fun. Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of the books is that the bad guys are out to kill and eat children; this isn’t something you see often in books- the killing, maybe, but not so much the eating- and it certainly adds a more visceral level of horror. The Peculiar abilities are unique and well written, and the settings often provide dangers and a sense of creepiness that makes you perpetually uneasy. Even if you just look at the pictures, you should check out this book.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson – Serial killers are always good fodder for a scare, and real-life ones are twice as horrifying. This nonfiction account of the Chicago World’s Fair cleverly combines the story of H.H. Holmes, America’s first known serial killer, and his murder house with the story of the men in charge of designing and building the fair. I ended up finding myself loving both the storylines, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that part of the joy in reading about the various challenges in constructing this or that building came from getting a break from the crazed escapades of Holmes. He was good at what he did-very, very good-and that he got away with the murders for so long is both horrifying and a bit awe-inspiring. Definitely not in a good way, though; I just can’t imagine how someone could kill that many people in such horribly ingenious fashions and not get caught for years. It’s terrifying to know that there are people like this out in the world, that they could be someone you see everyday, and you may never know. That’s what’s so truly terrifying about this book: we believe that people are really decent human beings until we are proven horribly, horribly wrong. There are a number of documentaries and accounts of Holmes, but none of them set the stage for his murder spree or give you a sense of Chicago and the fair quite as well as this book. It’s also being made into a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio supposedly starring as Holmes, so read the novel before you see it on the big screen.
Part of the fun of Halloween is getting to decorate. Indoors, outdoors, just the front door or the entire front yard- there are plenty of ideas out there for wherever or whatever you want to decorate. Living in an apartment limits the amount of decorating I can do, but I still have a few things that I like to put out every year:
Apothecary Jars – Any proper
poisoner toxicologist needs her own stock to experiment with at home, but Halloween calls for some special ingredients. To make your own apothecary jars, find bottles of all shapes and sizes, fill them with whatever interesting things you can find around your house, and come up with a label to tell the world what’s stored inside. Or find some labels you like online and fill your jars accordingly. The older and weirder the bottles, the better to give them that mysteriously dangerous look. Then just set them out and watch people stare!
Pumpkins – Okay, I’ll admit that I’d never carved a pumpkin until last year. I can’t decide if that’s pitiful or just ridiculous, but whatever. I’d rather enjoy pumpkins that other people- people who actually know what they’re doing- have carved. There’s no end to how you can carve a pumpkin, and you can make it as scary or funny or exciting as you want. Or, if you’re like me and lacking carving skills, you can decorate your pumpkin another way. Paint on a design, maybe even using chalkboard paint so you can write your own spooky message. Glue on some sequins, tie on some ribbon, or wrap it in toilet paper and make it a mummy. Whether you go for traditional or for something new, you can’t go wrong with a few pumpkins to put you in the Halloween mood.
Garlands – When aren’t garlands a fun but simple decoration? Garlands can be different colors and different shapes, they can have words or paper creatures, they can be short or long, hung or draped, high or low. They work in small spaces and around furniture, and they look clean and classic while still being noticeable. Garlands are an easy, all-purpose decoration that can fit in anyone’s home.
There are plenty of classic Halloween songs, Thriller, the Ghostbusters theme, This is Halloween, and Tubular Bells to name a few. They’re all great songs, but they have a tendency to be overplayed. You hear them on the radio, on TV ads, at parties and in restaurants and in automated Halloween decorations. Frankly, I get a bit tired of these after a while, which is why I have my own personal Halloween mix apart from my generic Halloween party mix. These songs tend to be a bit darker, and they’re certainly less popular, but they bring new layer of spooky to my Halloween listening. Some of the songs on this playlist are:
People Are Strange by Johnny Hollow – The original recording by The Doors has an upbeat, distinctly 60s feel that keeps it from being taken too seriously. This cover slows things down and adds in some creepy strings, making you believe the lead singer when she croons about the extra complexities that come with being strange.
House of the Rising Sun by Laura O’Connell – There have been a number of covers of this song, but this version sounds drastically different from the most popular recording by The Animals. That version of the song relies heavily on the organ to evoke an old-timey feel and the famous guitar arpeggio is definitely memorable, but the vocals are too loud and overstated, meant to grab attention rather than to truly relay the desperation of the narrator’s plight. Not so with O’Connell’s version. Once again, a slower tempo brings in the creepy, and the soulful vocals over the simple drums and the grooving guitar give true voice to the story of this lost soul.
The Beautiful People by Scala and Kolancy Brothers – Yet another cover, but the two versions sound so different that they may as well be different songs. Marilyn Manson’s original sounds like typical Marilyn Manson- screaming and growling, pounding drums, heavy on the guitar. This version is the exact opposite; it’s a slow, stately dirge, sung by a woman’s choir with only a piano and a bass drum for accompaniment. Any slow, mostly A Capella song has the potential to sound creepy, but this one truly does, especially because they sound so good as they sing about such terrible things. It’s an eerily beautiful cover, but I try not to listen to it right before bed lest it ends up as the soundtrack to my nightmares.
Let’s face it: some of the best treats are made during Halloween. Sugar is king, and the more elaborate the display, the better. I’m more about the taste than I am about the looks- I don’t care how it looks as long as it tastes good. But here are some of my favorite Halloween recipes that are both tasty and beautiful:
Poison Apples – These look even deadlier than the Evil Queen’s infamous apple, but they require much less spellwork to produce. The deviously deadly treats need just a few ingredients, and they don’t take very long to make. Choose your own evil color scheme, and use real sticks as skewers to add a more sinister look.
Bloody Truffles – These truffles are bloody looking and bloody delicious! These take a little longer to make, as they have to be refrigerated lest they melt, and the gory designs take a steady hand, but really, these are as complicated as you do or don’t want to make them. You could just dribble on the red food coloring and create blood spatter if you don’t have the patience to paint on all the blood. Finding the edible weapons may be a challenge, but bloody truffles sans weapons would look just as gruesome.
Butterbeer – This Harry Potter treat is delicious any time of the year, but it’s especially delicious to wash down the rest of your Halloween snacks. There are dozens of recipes for this drink- hot, cold, alcoholic, virgin- but the simplest one is pretty darn good. With just some marshmallow fluff, a bit of heavy whipping cream, and as butterscotch sauce as you want, you have a fluffy topping to put on top of a tall glass of cream soda. Stir it in a bit- but be careful; it’ll fizz!- and you have a truly magical drink. It may not taste exactly like what they sell at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but it’s still pretty delicious.
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party
Okay. So I live too far away from Walt Disney World to be able to go to their annual Halloween party, but I love it anyway. I mean, come on. It’s a giant Halloween party at Disney World. How could you not love it? And I have been to Disney during their Christmas celebrations, and I was there for their 25th anniversary party, so I know how elaborate Disney’s big blow-outs are. But the NSSHP has some special touches that make it even more amazing:
Adult Costumes – While kids are allowed to wear costumes to the parks at any time, us kids at heart aren’t allowed to do the same. This is really why Disney Bounding has become so popular, as it lets adults pretend to be their favorite characters in a more subtle way. But all the rules go out the window at Halloween, and adults can wear princess dresses, go full pirate, or channel their inner villain, which means they’ll fit right in with all the…
Villain Appearances – This is the baddies’ time to shine! Maleficent, Dr. Facilier, and Oogie Boogie are just a few of the infamous Disney villains that can be found celebrating Halloween in the parks. But regardless of what mischief they get up to during the day, they all gather to take part in the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular, hosted by none other than the Sanderson sisters, who are making another appearance in the mortal world to run amok. If you have a soft side for the bad guys, you don’t want to miss your chance to meet all these dastardly divas and ghastly gentlemen.
Specialty Treats – The sweets at Disney are always elaborate and delicious, but the ones offered at Halloween are extra special due to their scary flair. Just look at these things:
These wickedly sweet treats are only available at the NSSHP, so you’ll have to make a special trip to try one of these.
There are so many wonderful things that are exclusive to or evoke the feel of the Halloween season. Whether you prefer the magical, the mundane, or the macabre, everyone can find something to love about this spooky time of year. I hope that you, too, have some favorite Halloween things and that you’ve had the chance to enjoy them this year. If not, I hope you find some; maybe something from this list is just what you’re missing! So until the clock strikes midnight and the witching hour is gone, enjoy your sweets and ghoulish frights, and let the Halloween spirit live on!