Here's our quick Halloween “how” guide. First up, how did a holiday that takes its name from a Catholic holy day — All Hallows' Eve, the eve of All Saints' Day — become the day to dress up in costume and ask for candy, tell horror stories and carve pumpkins to look like they're throwing up?
The tradition of ghosts and costumes is attributed mostly to Ireland of a thousand years ago, and the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. In late October, the leaves were falling, much of a natural world was dying and on the last day before the Celtic new year of Nov. 1, it was believed the ghosts of the dead would walk the earth. People wore costumes to appease the spirits.
The ringing of doorbells can be traced to medieval Europe and the practice of “souling,” in which the poor would go house to house to ask for food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (Nov. 2). In 19th century Ireland and Scotland, children would go “guising,” or dress up in costumes and go door to door asking for food or coins. They'd carry lanterns carved from turnips, a tradition that changed when it came to America and pumpkins worked oh so much better.
Today, Halloween has become the most commercial holiday after Christmas, according to the National Retail Federation, with the average person expected to spend about $72 this year on costumes, candy and decorations.
Phew. Thanks, Wikipedia. Next, how to celebrate Halloween? Here are suggestions from the staff of On the Town.
Edit-ogre's note: Also see Kerry Reid's all-Halloween feature this week in Suburban Stage.
“Splatter Theater”: The premise is simple enough: Start each night with freshly painted white walls. Have the new kid in high school invite over a bunch of classmates (the school jock, the virgin). Channel all the old “Friday the 13th” movies and get busy with blades and drill bits unfreshening those walls. It's one of several Halloween-themed shows at the Annoyance. Through Oct. 31 at Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N Broadway; $15-$20 at 773-561-4665 and theannoyance.com
“Dracula: the Musical”: Based on the Bram Stoker novel with music by Frank Wildhorn, produced by Theatre Nebula and Music on Stage. Through Nov. 6 at Cutting Hall, 150 E. Wood St., Palatine; $20-$22 at 847-202-5222 or draculathemusical.net
Seven Scary Tales: Funny or scary? Written by David Storms Denman. Through Oct. 31 at National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway; $15 at brownpapertickets.com
“Musical of the Living Dead”: Paying homage to classic zombie films and traditional musical theater, presented by the Cowardly Scarecrow Theatre Company. Through Nov. 12 at Charnel House, 3421 W. Fullerton Ave.; $20-$25 at musicalofthelivingdead.com
Redmoon Halloween Bash 2011: From the king of spectacles, an adults-only party with performers in costume and a fire organ. Which is? A giant pipe organ on wheels that holds an opera singer and shoots flames of course. 9 p.m. Oct. 28 at Redmoon Central, 1463 W. Hubbard St.; free (ages 21+); redmoon.org
PARTIES AND PLACES
Fright Fest at Six Flags Great America: Great America has donned its annual Halloween costume, with rides and the theme park dressed up for the occasion. Not recommended for ages 12 and younger. Through Oct. 30 at Six Flags Great America; 1 Great America Parkway in Gurnee; $34.99-$59.99 at 666-666-6666 or frightfest.sixflags.com/greatamerica
Franken Plaza: Daley Plaza turns into Halloween Plaza as part of the city's Chicagoween celebration, with entertainment (including Midnight Circus and Dave Herzog's Marionettes), trick or treating, a screening of “Beetlejuice,” costume contest parade and more. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Oct. 28-29, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Oct. 30 at Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St.; free; 312-744-3316 and chicagoween.us
Halloween at Chicago Parks: Park districts all over the city are offering activities such as skate party, pumpkin patches, drive-in movie series, nocturnal animals (at Garfield Park Conservatory), a live Candy Land game walking trail, doggie PUPkin party and haunted houses. Events take place through Oct. 31; 312-742-7529 and chicagoparkdistrict.com
Northalsted Halloween Parade: Think you've got a good Halloween costume? Please step aside. 7 p.m. Oct. 31 at Halsted Street and Belmont Avenue; free, northalsted.com
Navy Pier's Really Big Halloween Party: Camel, llama and donkey rides, live music, strolling sideshow characters, trick or treating and more are part of the festive activities taking place Fridays through Sundays at the Pier. (No “The Fear” haunted house this year.) Through Oct. 31 at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave.; most activities are free, some require Party Pass: $20, $15 for ages 3-4, $6 for kids under 3; 312-595-7437, navypier.com
Seadog Haunted Tours: Same big yellow boat, but this cruise of the Chicago River tells all the ghostly secrets of the sites along the way. (Suitable for all ages.) 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday for Oct. 7-31, departing from Navy Pier; $17.95-$28.95 at 888-636-7737 or seadogcruises.com/chicago
Chicago Hauntings Ghost Tours: Those black school buses never look more appropriate than this time of year. Departing from 600 N. Clark St.; $33 for the signature tour; 888-446-7891 and chicagohauntings.com
Chicago Supernatural Tours: Hosted by professional ghost hunter Richard Crowe; go to ghosttours.com or call 708-499-0300 for the menu of tours, including a special Halloween tour ($54). Departing from Clybourn Place Shopping Mall, 1800 N. Clybourn Ave.
Freaky Frights on Forest: You know that $72-per-person figure we cited for Halloween spending? The folks on these two blocks in North Riverside completely blow the average. Nearly every home and much of the street is given over to Halloween mayhem, with decorations that go far beyond the sanely normal. The display runs nightly until about 10 p.m. at 2200-2300 Forest Ave., North Riverside; more information at freaky-frights.com and onFacebook
GWAR: As Beavis of “Beavis and Butt-Head” fame would say, “Gwwwwarrrrrr, yes! Yes!” How can you describe a band that is a cartoon within a cartoon, dressed like cartoon characters? The ultimate Halloween band. This time of the year always features bands dressing up as other bands to cover the make-believe band, but notice — none of them ever try their hands at the majesty that is GWAR. But how can you? The theme is prehistoric, costumed metal, and the tone is over-the-top. Giant water guns spray slave blood on audience members as the band tells demented stories through its songs. To say that GWAR rules would be an understatement. On Halloween, GWAR owns the galaxy. 5:30 p.m. Oct. 31 at House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St. $25; livenation.com
Dead on Division: B96 (WBBM-FM) and The Original Mother's host a ghoulish two-day party that takes place at six venues on Division Street. Wandering freaks, bars with haunted house, speakeasy and iconic TV and movie show themes (“Gilligan's Island,” “The Breakfast Club”), and a live music performance by the pop and dance cover band Green Thirteen are part of the festivities. Oct. 29 and Oct. 31 at various locations; 312-664-6656 and rushanddivision.com
Edit-ogre's note: For more area practitioners, see chicago.metromix.com and hauntedhousechicago.com. And just to protect ourselves, these typically are extreme experiences, for adults or older teens only.
Statesville Haunted Prison: Proud to have been freaking folks since 1996; those demented prisoners at Statesville have made themselves at home by now. (Also City of the Dead.) Through Nov. 5 at 17250 S. Weber Road, Crest Hill; $30-$40 at statesvillehauntedprison.com
Fear City: Highly recommended. “You may have seen scarier haunted houses than Fear City — although, on several occasions, I jumped halfway to the ceiling — but I very much doubt you've seen a more artful or fully realized Halloween milieu,” says critic Chris Jones in his Tribune review. Open 7 p.m. daily through Oct. 31, 8240 N. Austin St., Morton Grove; $25-$35 at fearcitychicago.com
Screams in the Park at Rosemont: This attraction — if “attraction” is an appropriate word — takes as its subject the legendary H.H. Holmes, the serial killer in “Devil in the White City.” Through Oct. 31 in the Park at River Road and West Bryn Mawr Avenue, Rosemont; $20 at 847-868-9279 or screamsinthepark.com
Eleventh Hour: A suburban spot with four haunted houses in one location: Eleventh Hour, Creatures of the Corn, The Catacombs and Intensity. In the daytime, it's still known as Berthold's Garden Center. Through Oct. 31 at 434 E. Devon Ave., Elk Grove Village; $18-$44.50 at eleventhhour.info
Reaper's Realm: Boasting “three floors of terror,” plus carnival rides. Through Oct. 31 at 626 177th St., Hammond, Ind.; $7-$30 at reapersrealm.com