Ah, Halloween. Time to build a big bonfire, carve a few turnips, throw on an animal skin and hand out "soul cakes" to the kids.

On the surface some Halloween traditions may seem a tad strange, but customs such as carving pumpkins, dressing up and handing out treats are rooted in world history.

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year Nov. 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter - a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.

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Hear Coast Weekend Editor Lauren Howry and reporter Helen Warriner talking about Halloween traditions and this year's costume trends.To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to protect them during the coming winter.

According to folklore, the turnip, not the pumpkin, was the first jack o' lantern. Irish immigrants brought the tradition of a carving gourds to America along with the Tale of Stingy Jack. Jack was a notorious miser who tricked the Devil into sparing his soul by luring him into a tree and trapping him there by carving a cross on the trunk. When Jack died, he found that he was unwelcome in both Heaven and Hell.

Condemned to wander the dark nights, the Devil gave Jack a burning ember to light his way. Placing the ember inside a hollowed-out turnip, he became Jack of the Lantern, and his lamp, re-created by generations in Ireland, Scotland and England in various vegetables, became a symbol for lost souls. On entering America, immigrants found that pumpkins made much better lanterns than turnips or beets.

Children today trick-or-treat in hopes of filling their goody-bags with Snickers and other candy, but their medieval forebears were after "soul cakes." The roots of modern trick-or-treating are believed to reach back to ninth-century England, when people paraded through town and handed out small pastries to the poor on All Saints' Day in exchange for prayers for their dead relatives. The practice was introduced by the church to replace the pagan tradition of leaving out food and wine for wandering spirits.

Spooky events dominate the weekend. Check out these events on the North Coast and around the region:

For little ghosts and goblins• Trick or Treat: Children can trick or treat at stores that are part of the Astoria Downtown Merchants Association between 3 and 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31.

• Monster Bash: The 2003 Monster Bash is from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31 at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds for children 13 and younger. Activities include a costume contest with prizes awarded by age, game booths, face painting and a picture booth, along with hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy, pop and prizes. Game booths are sponsored by the Astoria Aquatic Center, Astoria Parks and Community Services, Compleat Photographer, Public Works, the American Red Cross, Rotary and Astoria Children's Museum. The event is free. For more information, call (503) 325-7275.

• Halloween Haunt: Wear your costume and join the Astoria Children's Museum from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31 for a Halloween Haunt and an afternoon of ghoulish delights. Admission is $3 for everyone over one year of age. For more information, call (503) 325-8669.

• Aquatic Carnival: The Sunset Thriller Aquatic Carnival and Fall Fun Fest is from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31 for children 12 and younger at the Sunset Pool and Seaside Youth Center, 1140 E. Broadway, Seaside. Come in costume or bring a swimsuit. Make a splash with water games and win prizes from game booths. Other activities include fortune telling, costume contests, refreshments and arts and crafts. Admission is free. For more information, call (503) 738-3311.

Teens• Spooky swim: A Spooky Swim is from 9 to 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31 for ages 11 to 17 at the Sunset Pool, 1140 E. Broadway, Seaside. Admission is free. For more information, call (503) 738-3311.

• Halloween Monster Bash: A Halloween Monster Bash is from 10 p.m. to midnight Friday, Oct. 31 for ages 13 to 17 at the Astoria Aquatic Center. Come to a late-night teen swim with the ghost and ghouls of the night for some scary holiday sounds and lights out. Cost is $1 per person.

• Harvest Party: Warrenton First Baptist Church hosts this event at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31 at the church, 30 N.E. First St. There will be carnival games, costume contest, cake walk, door prizes and finger foods. For information, call (503) 861-2432.

Live music/costume contest• A Halloween Costume Party with live music by the Distractions is from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 1 at Phyllis and Bob's Labor Temple Cafe and Bar, 934 Duane St. First prize is $100, second place is a $50 gift certificate and third place is a $25 gift certificate. ID is required. There is no cover charge. For more information, call (503) 325-0801.

• A Halloween Skaraoke Party with karaoke music by Brandy is from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, Oct. 31 at Phyllis and Bob's Portway, 422 W. Marine Drive. Wear a costume for the costume contest. First prize is a $25 gift certificate. ID is required. There is no cover charge. For more information, call (503) 325-2651.

• The Dagons performs with opening act Jimmy Atto at 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31 at the Voodoo Room, 1102 Marine Drive. Cover is $5. For more information, call (503) 325-2233.

• A Halloween Party and costume contest is from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, Oct. 31 at the Astoria Red Lion Inn, 400 Industry St. There will be live music by Medicine. For more information, call (503) 325-7373.

• Michael Vallee performs at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31 and Saturday, Nov. 1 at Creekside Pizzeria, 2490 N. U.S. Highway 101, Seaside. The restaurant hosts a costume party Friday, Oct. 31 with a $100 prize for best costume. Judging begins at 8 p.m.; (503) 738-7763.

• The Seaside Downtown Development Association sponsors a costume contest for all ages Friday, Oct. 31. Participants register at the SDDA office starting at 2:30 p.m. They will then visit participating stores identified by an orange window sign. At each store, participants will receive a treat and have their costume judged, earning scores on an entry form. The more stores visited, the more points accumulated. Entry forms must be returned to the SDDA office by 5:15 p.m. the same day. There is no entry fee. Winners will be announced.

Dancing• Save your costume for the annual Halloween Ball at the Netel Grange on Saturday Nov. 1. Join the Alderbrook String Band and callers Susie McLerie and Dave Ambrose for an evening of dancing. The Alderbrook String Band is Gina Kytr on fiddle, Hobe Kytr on banjo, Susie McLerie on mandolin, Spud Siegel on fiddle and mandolin and Dave Ambrose on bass. There will be prizes for best costume in a variety of categories. Dance to live string music in the old-time tradition from 8 to 11 p.m. A dance workshop is held at 7:30 p.m. The dance is a smoke and alcohol-free event for the whole family. No dance experience necessary. Admission is $5 minimum and children younger than 12 are free when accompanied by a responsible adult. The Netel Grange is four miles south of Miles Crossing on Lewis and Clark Road. Call (503) 325-0278 or (503) 325-1040 for more information.

Haunted houses• Lazer Zone Laser Tag Arena hosts the haunted house Deadzone 2003, sponsored by radio stations KCRX, KAST, Q 94.3 and KVAS. Deadzone 2003 will be open through Friday, Oct. 31. The Lazer Zone Laser Tag Arena, 3575 U.S. Highway 101 North, Gearhart, is in the North Coast Plaza in Gearhart just behind North Coast Phone Center. Cost is $5 per person, $4 with a can of food. For more information, call Lazer Zone at (503) 738-5636.

• The Barn Community Playhouse, 12th and Ivy streets across the street from Les Schwab in Tillamook, will be the place for "A Haunted House" from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. through Saturday, Nov. 1. Admission is $2. The event is appropriate for all ages and candy is free. Cameras and camcorders are allowed. All proceeds will be used to help the Tillamook Association for the Performing Arts maintain and improve the Barn Community Playhouse. The lights, sounds and decorations are owned by Portland attorney and TAPA director Stephen Bauer. There are 2,500 decorations, 2,000 lights and 12 stereo soundtracks. Everyone gets a guided tour.

Theater• 'Night Must Fall' - CANNON BEACH - The Coaster Theatre Playhouse, 108 Hemlock St., presents this old-fashioned British murder mystery by Emlyn Williams. The play runs Oct. 24, 25, 31 and Nov. 1. All shows begin at 8 p.m. except matinees. Tickets are $16, $15 and $14. No children younger than 5 are allowed. For more information, call (503) 436-0609.

• 'The Woman in Black' - LONGVIEW, Wash. - "The Woman in Black," a play appropriate for the haunting season runs through Sunday, Nov. 2 at the Pepper Studio Theatre in Longview, Wash. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $18 for evening shows and $11 for matinees. For more information or to buy tickets, call (888) 575-TIXX (8499) or (360) 575-TIXX (8499).

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