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Halloween festivities creep back into Boston, still more subdued than pre-COVID

Jack-O’-Lanterns. As Boston prepares to celebrate Halloween this year, many residents are opting to get in the spooky spirit with smaller gatherings and parties. LUWA YIN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

As we approach Halloween on Oct. 31, the City of Boston is preparing to celebrate the holiday. 

While Halloween originated from the Celts — present-day Ireland and Scotland — the tradition was brought into the United States by Irish immigrants who arrived in the 1840s and 1850s. The first recorded celebration of Halloween in Massachusetts was in 1884, as chronicled by an article in the Boston Daily Globe that year. 

The Irish brought with them the practice of making Jack-O’-Lanterns, although that evolved over time — pumpkins replaced the Irish’s turnips as the choice for carving. They also brought the tradition of trick-or-treating.

“In Ireland, if you went door to door wearing a costume, they would give you food,” Stephen Kenney, museum director of the Commonwealth Museum, said. “So when people came especially from Ireland to Massachusetts, that custom began to take hold.”

The event grew in popularity in the 20th century, with the baby boom after World War II credited with making the event more popular, commercialized and mainstream throughout the United States.  

“It is an example of an immigrant group coming to America, maybe not being accepted at first, and bringing customs that get to be adopted widely and then we think of this as a typical part of American culture,” Kenney said. “That process continues today.”

Jared Daley, moderator and president of Secret Boston — a Facebook community of over 200,000 members that highlights events and artists in the area — noted that while there are more Halloween events this year as compared to 2020, it is still a far cry from pre-pandemic times. 

“We are running at about maybe half of what you would see typically,” Daley said. “Corona did a number on the [entertainment] industry so a lot of these people are just not operational anymore.”  

Daley said there is a shift in preferences for Halloween plans this year — more people are choosing to host smaller parties as opposed to attending larger events. Daley lamented the impact this has on the hospitality industry, although he is glad that there is still some holiday cheer going around. 

“It is not the same level as it used to be, but I know the spirit is still there,” Daley said. 

Daley says he is most interested in the Halloween show organized by bands Neighbor and Club d’Elf held at The Sinclair. The gastropub and music venue is located in Cambridge, and the concert is a chance to wear a costume too, Daley said. 

“People get a chance to get creative,” Daley said. “We’re in this great community where it’s a big college town, and these college kids can come up with some crazy stuff. I am always impressed when you go out on Halloween night around here.”

For more family-friendly fun, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department is holding a free movie screening of “Hotel Transylvania” on Oct. 23 — the Mayor’s Movie Night —  at the Boston Common. 

Acting mayor Kim Janey and the Parks and Recreation Department’s highlight event — the first annual Fall-o-Ween Children’s Festival — will be held the day before at the Boston Common Frog Pond from 5 – 8 p.m.. This free event is suitable for all ages and includes a “Haunted Fun House Maze” and other attractions, such as an art activity with the Mayor’s Mural Crew.  

The Department is also hosting the 2021 Mayor’s Pumpkin Carving Contest. Boston residents can carve pumpkins in the categories of “most creative,” “scariest” or “Boston-Parks themed” in a chance to win the top prize — a gift basket worth $75 courtesy of the farm families who own the Cabot Creamery Co-operative. Submissions are due Oct. 31. Contestants are also encouraged to compost their pumpkin after the event.

“Every fall, over a thousand families join us in costume on Boston Common for spooky family fun,” said Boston Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ryan Woods in an email statement. “It was important to bring back this beloved event after a hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19 protocols. We are back safely in 2021 with even more giveaways, activities, and performances, plus a glow-in-the-dark pop-up play space for kids to enjoy.”

Regardless of whether you are carving a turnip or pumpkin, visiting a bar or a park or trick-or-treating, happy Halloween!

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