I like to think that each Hogwarts house has its own Halloween party after the big feast, but each of them very different from each other.
I feel like the Gryffindors would have a pretty standard party with spooky decorations, snacks, and drinks. But you won’t see any of the costumes that are common in the muggle world, like bedsheet ghosts or witches with brooms that would never get off the ground. There’s nothing scary about that for a wizard, and in fact, they find it a bit insulting.
Hufflepuffs, on the other hand, have fully embraced the muggle tradition of wearing costumes. They spend weeks planning group costumes with their friends. You might see a quidditch team, a group of muggle superheroes, a set of potions ingredients, the four seasons, or a little flock of owls. One memorable Halloween, a group even came as the Hogwarts Express, costumes all linked together, enchanted smoke billowing out of the engine.
Ravenclaws sit around the fire in the common room telling scary stories. Some of them make up stories about ghouls, lethifolds, and dementors, while others adapt muggle horror movies or disturbing stories from the Daily Prophet. They’ve also developed a tradition of “riddle costumes” – that is, costumes whose meaning is not immediately obvious. The harder time your friends have figuring out what you’re dressed as, the better job you’ve done – as long as the answer makes sense once you’ve explained.
Slytherins like to see themselves as a bit “above it all”. After all, Halloween is just a pale muggle imitation of a world they live in every day. But even they can’t resist a chance to sip pumpkin juice (or something stronger) and munch on chocolate. Every once in a while, a newcomer like Albus Potter will try to decorate the common room with fake cobwebs and plastic spiders, but it never catches on.
Pumpkins grinning jagged grins
Glowing in the night
Ghostly figures swooping down
Bathed in eerie light
Tables loaded down with sweets
Leaping chocolate frogs
Fireplace bringing warmth and light
With its burning logs
Children with the strangest pets
Owls, cats, and toads
Waving wands and casting spells
In their long black robes
Broomsticks fly and cauldrons boil
Potions brew inside
Children eat enchanted sweets
While trolls sneak inside
Spooky creatures, ghosts, and ghouls
Laughs and shrieks of fear
Hogwarts students celebrate
This haunted time of year
Pumpkins hanging from the ceiling. Ghosts gliding through the hallways. Owls flying overhead as children, dressed in black robes and pointy hats, practice spells. There’s always been something distinctly Halloween about the Harry Potter series.
In fact, Halloween is an important day within the books themselves, and not just as a holiday. From the opening of the Chamber of Secrets to the Triwizard Champion selection, many significant events in the Harry Potter series take place on Halloween. The opening scenes of the series are even revealed later to have happened Halloween night.
Why is this? What is Halloween’s significance? Naturally, I have a theory.
The holiday we now know as Halloween came from an ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain. They believed that on the day we now know as Halloween, the dead returned as ghosts, and they wore costumes and lit bonfires to protect themselves. Later, November 1 became All Saints’ Day and October 31 All Hallows’ Eve, but many of the traditions – like costume-wearing – have remained even as their significance has changed.
Halloween was undeniably a dangerous day in the Harry Potter series, and the events that took place on Halloween often related to death. In Chamber of Secrets, it’s the day a supposedly dead wizard released a monster and started using it to attack Hogwarts students. In Goblet of Fire, it’s the day Harry is forced into a dangerous tournament that nearly kills him and does kill one of his competitors. Even in Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s the first time since he was a baby that Harry’s life is put in danger because of Voldemort. We associate Halloween today with candy, kids in costumes, and spooky – but not truly scary – decorations. But in the distant past, it was seen as both a powerful day and a dangerous one.
And yet, it’s also the day Voldemort was defeated the first time around. While the Celts may have worn costumes to confuse malicious spirits, in the Deathly Hallows flashbacks, Voldemort was able to pass as an ordinary man in costume on Halloween. What a reversal, don’t you think? He describes Halloween decorations as “the tawdry Muggle trappings of a world in which they did not believe”, giving the impression that it is not fake spiders or ghosts – or even magic – that is dangerous, but people like Voldemort (Deathly Hallows 342). And, just like the evil spirits the Celts lit bonfires to protect themselves from, Voldemort is temporarily defeated that night. He fails to kill Harry and loses his power.
He is defeated by a mother’s selflessness and bravery. And here’s where we get to the changing meaning of Halloween, because later on it was linked with All Saints’ Day. A religious holiday meant to honor all dead Christians, All Saints’ Day could even be said to share some of the previous ideas about life and death not being so separate after all, but in a very different way. And for Harry, his parents are never really gone. He sees echoes and shadows of them throughout his days at Hogwarts, eventually even meeting them in a not-quite-ghostlike form near the end of Deathly Hallows. They are watching over him, and their love protects him.
I’m not saying anything is literally going on with October 31 in Harry Potter. But thematically, I think there’s a reason things tend to happen on Halloween.