New Orleanians Get in the Spirit of Halloween

Helen Reporting. Halloween is beloved in New Orleans, probably because it gives us an excuse to dress up. Everyone has a costume closet or trunk overflowing with wigs and bits and pieces of fabric, lace, masks, scarves, hats, concepts from costumes past to reconstruct in the present. A space helmet, a bustier, vampy heels and voilà: You’ve got your costume: Space Trash.

In New Orleans, Halloween is much more than a day, it’s a movement. A month out, houses are festooned with ghosts, orange lights, zombies, ravens, bats, spider webs, eyeballs, ghouls, demons, pumpkins, the works. Parades, music shows, vampire balls, warehouse parties clutter the calendar for weeks.

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Eyeballs on door

Yard sales clutter every block. Neighbors start swapping supplies and accessories: a snow-queen crown, scissors, angel’s wings, glue gun, a pig nose, a Civil War jacket, twisty ties, a picture frame, a dragon tail. All can be mixed into a “concept costume.” Raving Ravens (black birds with pacifiers), When Hell Freezes Over (skirt with flames sewn on, white sparkling top), Tree of Life (hair woven with apples and oranges), The Bat of an Eye (a gigantic eye with bat wings).

On Halloween night itself, superheroes, vampires, goblins and unidentifiable spirits all mingle in front of Checkpoint Charlie’s on Esplanade Avenue. Frenchman Street is a mass of spirits, so jammed it takes an hour to travel one block. The street is the runway, and everyone is both cat-walker and gawker, and saints are in full swing with sinners.

Not only is Halloween a chance for us to indulge our imaginations, it’s also the perfect stage for a debate between good and evil, life and death. In a city that accepts voodoo practitioners, people are perfectly willing to accept other mysteries—haunted houses, unexplained disappearances, the sense that someone is following you, that ghosts walk among us. At heart, New Orleanians take joy in being engaged in the mysteries of life.

Halloween comes at a time when summer’s suffocating humidity finally dissipates. The weather is gorgeous. Windows open. Air-conditioning goes silent. Blue skies, crisp air, bright sunshine. It’s parading weather, and parades call for a costume, or at least an accessory, a blue wig with cat ears will do. It’s also perfect sleeping weather, but New Orleanians don’t need to sleep. We’ll sleep when we’re dead.

  3Comments

  1. Julie Clemmens   •  

    Great post! New Orleans is my favorite city to spend Halloween. There’s nothing like it.

  2. Joseph McGinty   •  

    I love the last line- that Helen is one heck of a writer!

  3. Samson   •  

    I am in Michigan, and your essay made me fall in love with a place I’ve never been, yet. Thank you, Samson.

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