Even though Halloween isn’t until Tuesday, the festivities have already begun. Every city in America does Halloween, but nobody does it quite like San Francisco.
Not only is Halloween a bacchanal of beautiful vices barely masked by costumes and frivolity, but it also marks the end of our festival season. Starting in May with the How Weird Street Fair, San Franciscans have endless ways to celebrate the wildness that still runs through The City, even if it’s become more subdued in recent years. Then, after all the street fairs and park concerts and block parties and decompression events, the season comes to a close with ecstatic fervor.
Depending on which day of the week Halloween lands on, this erupting insanity can last for nearly a week.
Yes, this is a Halloween town. We use any excuse throughout the year to put on a weird costume and party in the streets, but Halloween is the main event. People spend more time and money on Halloween than New Year’s Eve. If there’s five evenings of shenanigans, there’s just cause to have five different costumes — and sometimes an extenuating circumstance can cause you to change costumes midway though the madness.
Last year, I dressed as Disco Stu from “The Simpsons.” At a late-night party, a guy asked to try on my wig and then disappeared with it. I spent the rest of the Halloween week dressed as a robber baron.
Christians co-opted the pagan festival Samhain and turned it into All Hallow’s Eve to help convert the Celts to their god. And All Hallow’s Eve eventually became Halloween. Back when mystics and druids roamed the earth, Oct. 31 was when the veil between the spirit world and our world was the thinnest and people could commune with the dead.
In a way, Halloween is still a time when the veil is thinnest in The City.
I don’t necessarily mean people can talk to spirits on Halloween, but it lets us channel the freakiness that this city used to represent. It’s a nearly weeklong celebration where you can quite literally be whoever or whatever you want. Isn’t that at the core of what San Francisco stands for?
Halloween is also the passage point from our warm months to our rainy ones. It’s like the gods of San Francisco hold back on the waterworks just because they like to see us at our best. Shortly after, we put away our costume boxes, the skies cloud up, and the rain pushes us inside for a few months.
At least, that’s the way it was for many years. After a nearly five-year drought, we were very lucky to have all the rain we did last year. But, as we’ve seen in the news lately, climate change is impacting places all over the world. San Francisco most likely won’t be any different. So, if there is no rainy season to offset the festive one, what does that mean for us?
Even utter hedonists, like me, need some sort of balance in our lives. We can’t just party forever. Thankfully, Dia de Los Muertos comes on right after Halloween. Even if the weather doesn’t change, Dia de Los Muertos grounds us. These days, it’s the real veil between us and the spirit world. The procession through the Mission and the altars at Garfield Park remind us that our time here is short, but that our ancestors are with us wherever we go.
What’s always made this city special is that it’s been a place where cultures are less likely to collide than they are to dance with one another. For many of us, the tandem of Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos is the ideal representation of that — they’re the perfect dance partners. One night you’re chasing the spirits, and the next you let them chase you.
Happy Halloween week, my lovely witches and warlocks. Be safe out there and get the last bit of madness out of your system because if we’re lucky, we’ll soon have lots of rain.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.