It can be fun to buy into Halloween's recent commercialism. To flaunt factory-made costumes and to traipse through high-tech haunted houses.
But it can be far more powerful -- more haunting, shall we say -- to take our cue from centuries past, and celebrate a grassroots Halloween.
Don't panic. You are still allowed a ton of spookiness. History is on your side. The Feast of All Hallows -- or All Saints, meaning the faithful departed -- goes back at least to the sixth century. It did not take long for the eve of the feast -- that would be Halloween -- to become a time when folks had a great time reminding each other of the reality of hell, before moving on the next day to rejoice hopefully in the prospect of heaven.
It was only natural, after all. With the shadows lengthening and darkness hastening, humankind has always dwelt at this time of year on death and what lies beyond. Perhaps we should, again, embrace tradition. Amid the increasingly ghoulish modern brouhaha, it can stir the soul to cast back to the past.
Here are some ways to do that.
Put down "Harry Potter" and read a Halloween classic. Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" was first published in 1818 -- 200 years ago this very year -- so you could start there. Trust me, it will draw you in fast. Victorian options include Bram Stoker's "Dracula" or spooky Sherlock Holmes stories such as "A Study in Scarlet" or Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death."
Go on a ghost walk. The art of storytelling is as old as Halloween itself. Western New York boasts a cornucopia of ghost walks. Haunted History Ghost Walks, the oldest of the pack, offers tours of Allentown, Larkinville, the Theatre District, you name it. Maybe start with murky, spooky East Aurora. Founder Mason Winfield promises, "This is one of the richest scripts we have." It meets at the Roycroft Inn (40 S. Grove St., East Aurora) at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays in October. Adults $15-$20; kids 7-11 $10; under 7, free. 655-6663.
Halloween shines with antiquated lighting -- candles, gaslight, and lanterns. In Lockport, the Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride celebrates the season with a Lantern Lit Evening Tour. Tours take place at varying times every evening from Oct. 19 through Oct. 31. $18, age 8 and up only, reservations strongly suggested. 5 Gooding St., Lockport. 438-0174.
The Buffalo Museum of Science is home to classic Victorian ambiance. You may scrutinize dinosaur bones, extinct birds, and that fierce looming, stuffed grizzly bear. If it looks so great by day, imagine what it is like at night. You can find out. From 6 p.m. Oct. 20 to 9 a.m. Oct 21; and from 6 p.m. Oct. 21 to 9 a.m. Oct. 22, the museum invites us to "Spooky Overnight At the Museum." There will be hands-on science, a flashlight tour (imagine that grizzly by flashlight) and, weather permitting, a study of the inky night sky through the museum's recently restored telescope. $42 per person -- child or adult. 1020 Humboldt Parkway; 896-5200.
Act fast and head to the Buffalo Museum of Science at 6 p.m. Oct. 19 for "Frankenscience." You have to be at least 21, and beer and wine will be available. The museum promises live cow eye dissections -- eeuw -- highlights from the "Cabinet of Curiosities" including "nature's most unique freaks"; Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulations, plus a discussion on the influence of "Frankenstein." $16. 1020 Humboldt Parkway; 896-5200.
Music sparks imagination -- and what you imagine is always scarier than anything Hollywood could show you. At 2:30 p.m. Oct. 21, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is performing "Symphonic Spooktacular" -- including classics by Tchaikovsky and Dukas (the always terrifying "The Sorcerer's Apprentice") as well as modern movie music. It's a children's concert but fun for grown-ups too. Arrive an hour early for free activities. $14-$24. 885-5000.
Ruminate by the water on what lies beyond. Consider Ghost Pond, which stays full mysteriously no matter what the rainfall. Ghost Pond is at Beaver Meadow, the Audubon Society nature preserve. Or go to -- you are not dreaming, this place is real -- Owlenburg Bog. Also known as Allenburg Bog and Waterman's Swamp, it is another Audubon site, in Cattaraugus County, on the border of the towns of Napoli and New Albion. Owlenburg Bog boasts 30 different species of liverworts. For info on Audubon locations, call (585) 457-3228.
On Oct. 24, the full moon appears. Celebrate it at Knox Farm State Park (437 Buffalo Road, East Aurora) from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., with a hike to Knox Falls by the glow of the moon. Registration is required; call 652-0786. At 7:30 p.m., a full moon walk begins in Reinstein Woods (93 Honorine Drive, Depew) to search for nocturnal animals and seasonal constellations. Call 683-5959 to register.
Make your own costumes. Think of the Peanuts kids, waiting for the Great Pumpkin. It showed how you can just cut two holes in a sheet so you can see out, throw it over your head, and voila, you're a ghost! Put eye holes all over the sheet, and you can be Charlie Brown. A scarecrow isn't tough to pull off. Neither is a witch. Put on a hat and robe and carry a broom.
Take the kids trick-or-treating. It is one of the last vestiges, along with Christmas caroling, of a medieval custom of going from house to house on great feast days, asking for treats in return for prayers. Let's keep tradition alive.
Medieval artists painted saints, sinners, and seasons. Why don't we? Paint nights offer an opportunity even if you have no art experience. One studio that lets you sip wine and paint is Pinot's Palette, 950 Transit Road, Suite 400, Amherst. On Oct. 19, from 7 to 10 p.m., you can paint "Starry Nightmare," inspired by Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night." On Oct. 23, try "Shimmering Leaves," and on Oct. 30, it's "Harvest Moonlight." Admission varies and includes supplies. 218-8446.
Almsgiving is traditional to the season, so give to charity. Accept charity, too, while you are at it. On Oct. 31, Anderson's Frozen Custard is giving out free handmade ice cream or frozen custard cones to all kids 12 and younger who show up in costume.