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Halloween Celebrations Around the World

Breathe deeply…. October is here! In my little corner of the world, October means crisp air and brightly colored leaves.  It means smiling pumpkins and straw bales garnished with vibrant mums. It’s costume stress and an endless supply of candy. It means Halloween is on our doorstep as surely as the trick-or-treaters will be on the 31st. As I filled the monster munchies bowl, I began thinking about our Halloween traditions. How are they different from others? Are there Halloween celebrations around the world? Does everyone carve jack-o-lanterns and dress up? I decided to “scare up” some information about this ancient holiday and was fascinated by what I found.

Where did Halloween begin?

Halloween started in Ireland with the early Celtic festival, Samhain. Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest. It was believed that the boundary between the dead and living became blurred on this day.  Celebrants wore costumes and lit bonfires to ward off ghosts and prevent spirits’ mischief causing crop damage. When Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as All Hallows Eve in the 8th century, many of the traditions associated with Samhain were adopted.

How is Halloween celebrated around the world?

Halloween, or Halloween-like events, take place across the globe. They are often celebrated in the same general time frame as Halloween and have similar themes of the dead rejoining the living. Oddly enough, food (and not just candy) is often involved.

Do the Irish still celebrate Halloween?

In Ireland, bonfires still dot the landscape and children still dress in costume to trick-or-treat on Halloween. Neighborhood parties often follow the door-to-door activities. Children and adults eat a special fruitcake called a barnbrack. Each has a treat baked inside that can predict the future. If you find a toy ring in your barnbrack, romance is in store. If you bite into a coin, it’s going to be a prosperous year.

Is Dia de los Muertos a Halloween celebration?

Dia de los Muertos is NOT a Halloween celebration, but it is a time to honor the dead.  In Latin America, Spain and Mexico, October 31st marks the beginning of this three-day observance.  During these days, families of the deceased believe the dead come back to visit. People build alters for their lost loved ones and fill them with candy, flowers, photos, favorite foods and even drinks. The celebration wraps up November 2nd on All Souls Day.

How do the English celebrate Halloween?

On November 5, 1606, Guy Fawkes was executed after being convicted of trying to blow up England’s parliament building. Fawkes was a Catholic who wanted to remove King James from the throne. Today, Guy Fawkes Day is commemorated each November 5th with bonfires, effigies of Guy and fireworks.  Children also roam neighborhoods asking for pennies for the “guy.” No need for a candy bowl here- just lots of spare change!

What is the Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong?

Somewhere between mid-August and mid-September, the people of East Asia believe spirits get restless and begin to roam. The Hungry Ghost Festival gives them a chance to feed the spirits and give them money for the afterlife.

How do Italians celebrate?

All Saints Day on November 1st is a national holiday in Italy. People leave fresh flowers (typically chrysanthemums) on the graves of loved ones and strangers, creating colorful displays. They also place single red candles in windows at sunset and set tables with an extra place to encourage visits from lost loved ones.

There are countless Halloween celebrations around the world with different names and common themes. It’s a fascinating look at how traditions are formed and an interesting perspective on our similarities as global citizens. As you fill your own munchies bowl for the onslaught of trick or treaters, know that you are not alone when celebrating the departed!

5 Fabulous Reasons Kids Should Travel

Recently, I sat in on a rather tense PTA meeting at my daughter’s school. The subject causing controversy? Eliminating class field trips. The district wasn’t considering cancelling to save money, but rather because parents were concerned that children won’t be safe. I became increasingly agitated as I listened to the conversations detailing the certain perils and dangers lurking around every corner. Keep in mind, these trips typically involved the zoo, a play or the local science center!

As I tried (and failed) to keep an open mind and closed mouth, I finally had to add my two cents. I reminded the parents that teachers have the daunting task of preparing students for success beyond the classroom. Achieving this lofty goal sometimes requires that students actually LEAVE the classroom.

The same fundamental principle applies to student travel. It’s a big world (yes, sometimes crazy) but absolutely worth experiencing! Student travel is one of the best teaching tools available to educators and parents. Below are 5 fabulous reasons kids should travel.

Cultural Awareness

Travel is a critical piece of understanding the world around us. We are a global society, connected by technology. However, nothing can replace the human experience of engaging with a culture that may differ from our own. In some cases, visiting a different city qualifies as cultural awareness!

My husband, a former student tour operator, often took young people from socioeconomically disadvantaged urban settings on trips. Many of these kids never ventured beyond the borders of their neighborhoods. Traveling gave them the sense that the world is bigger than what they live, that people are different, and yet also very much the same. When forming opinions about others and the world around you, it’s imperative to do so with first-hand knowledge.

Academic Performance

A recent study by the Student Youth Travel Association demonstrated that 54% of teachers organize travel opportunities because it positively impacts academic performance! Duh! Travel connects curriculum to reality. Simple.

Social Impact

This same study also looked at the social impact of student travel. It showed a 60% increased willingness to know, learn and explore as well as a 56% increase in self-esteem, independence and confidence. Kids who travel have a strong sense of their place in the world, are more tolerant and respectful of others, are more collaborative and adapt more readily to new situations.

Practice to Performance

If your students are involved in the arts, consider the benefits of performing in front of an audience NOT just filled with proud moms, dads and grandparents. It is incredibly fulfilling to take the skills practiced every day in 3rd period and apply them to a real- life performance opportunity in an amazing venue! Imagine dancers opening for professional shows in Branson, or the show choir performing before an international audience at Walt Disney World®. We all know the countless hours invested in marching band- travel allows those finely-honed skills to be displayed in style at countless festivals, parades and performance spots both nationally and internationally.

Classrooms to Careers

Students (particularly high school) are constantly planning for future career possibilities. Travel provides a unique perspective on job opportunities that may exist outside the norm. For example, maybe you have a sports nut who loves football but won’t necessarily be turning pro. A visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame may offer a glimpse into the careers of those who work in the industry but not as athletes!

Perhaps your child loves music but isn’t destined to be the next “big thing.” That shouldn’t exclude him/her from a career in production, marketing, or any other aspect of the field. A behind the scenes tour in Nashville or Broadway can be illuminating and worthwhile when thinking to the future.  There are countless options available to explore!

There are just 5 fabulous reasons kids should travel. It is an essential piece of a comprehensive education, and key to developing a well-rounded individual. Let those kiddos out into the crazy, wide, wonderful world – I guarantee you’ll ALL be glad you did!

Performance Opportunities for Orchestras

As far as school music programs go, the band tends to get a lot of attention. Between sporting events, concerts or even competitions, the band enjoys a certain amount of popularity. As a result, the orchestra and its talented musicians can occasionally be overlooked. School orchestras are comprised of students who are gifted in their own rights – and in more ways than one! It’s time to share the spotlight with amazing performance opportunities for orchestras!

Manhattan Concert Productions, NYC

Your ensemble can perform on stage in famous venues with exceptional guest faculty when you collaborate with Manhattan Concert Productions. They offer experiences you won’t find anywhere else, like the Symphonic Series. Orchestras participate in a private clinic with a guest faculty member and receive feedback from an acclaimed panel of nationally recognized experts. The residency culminates in a daytime concert at Carnegie Hall. It’s an extraordinary performance and learning opportunity in an iconic setting.

National Orchestra Festival®

The National Orchestra Festival® is held in conjunction with the American String Teachers Association (ASTA) annual conference each year. Middle and high school youth orchestras from all over the U.S can apply. Categories include competition, ratings and comments, or comments-only. This is an incredible opportunity for your orchestra to receive placement, ratings, comments and instruction from top adjudicators and clinicians. In 2020, the festival takes place March 5-7 in Orlando, Florida and promises to be a phenomenal experience for your string players.

Theme Park Performances

The marching band isn’t the only group that can perform in the parks! Orchestras are invited to wow the crowds in many of the most popular amusement parks.

Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA welcomes students as part of its SoundWaves program. Orchestras take center stage in a unique park performance venue before an international audience. Even better, a designated coordinator will organize your group’s performance so you can focus on the fun.

Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH is another fantastic option for your student group. The Festival of Music is an opportunity to perform on site before first-rate adjudicators. They’ll listen, evaluate and comment on elementary, middle and high school orchestras. Each school will then receive a participation award with a rating. The Festival of Music will take place May 8, 15 and 22 in 2020 for those interested in this exciting program.

Walt Disney World® in Orlando, FL hosts Festival Disney each spring. It’s open to middle and high school orchestras, concert bands and jazz ensembles and historically has been adjudicated by distinguished collegiate music educators. The festival allows for competitive and non-competitive status including ratings, but no rankings or comments only. It’s an amazing performance opportunity for orchestras looking to gain a competitive edge or simply fine tune their skills.

String players are just as talented and dedicated as the marching band but perhaps not always as visible as their percussive counterparts. There are outstanding performance opportunities for orchestras on some very prestigious stages that will allow them to shine brightly. Give them a platform for the praise and accolades they deserve!

Band Competition Survival Guide for Parents

For some parents, autumn means back to school, crockpot cooking and Friday night lights. For band parents, it means that band competition season has begun! If you are new to the joys and challenges of performance events (or just need a refresher), this band competition survival guide for parents may come in handy!


Let’s face it- marching bands have a LOT of moving parts. They can always use a helping hand, especially during competitions. If you have some time to spare, consider spending some it with some talented kiddos. Your band director will ultimately determine where help is needed but there are lots of ways to jump in! Below are some suggested volunteer opportunities.


Chaperones are invaluable during a competition. They ride the bus to help maintain order, offer endless supplies of patience to students waiting in endless queues to perform, carry coats for those brisk evening performances and generally help students get through the event from start to finish.

Pit Crew/Props

If you have a bit of muscle or a knack for organizing, consider helping with props or pit crew. Equipment trucks need to be loaded and unloaded and field props set up and torn down quickly.

Uniform Crew

Someone needs to sort those uniforms and keep track of the plumed hats for distribution! It’s also a good idea to have a few people handy with needle and thread (or even duct tape!) for last minute uniform repairs.

First Aid

Ideally, a medical professional will travel with the band. However, a few caring parents willing to handle basic first aid is always appreciated.


Making sure students are hydrated and well-fed is critical to a successful competition. Days can be long and rigorous. A little food and lots of water go a long way and snack volunteers usually have rock star status among students!


If you are more of supporter from the stands, there are things you should also do to prepare for competition day.


Weather in the fall can be tricky, depending on location. Days in the sun can be hot while nights can get cold quickly. Dress in layers, throw hats and gloves into a backpack and don’t forget the ponchos (I can speak to this personally!) Blankets are a great idea also and…need I say it…. don’t forget your stadium seat!


Most performance venues will have concessions of some sort, so be sure to bring some pocket money for hot chocolate and nachos. Many competitions will also be selling gear like t-shirts, pins, patches, etc. Your band student may not have a chance to shop so be prepared to grab the goods for him/her.

If the competition is held at a host school, that school may use it as an opportunity to fundraise. Prepare for 50/50 tickets, basket raffles and candy grams!

Team Spirit

Bands are doing the difficult work of performing but spectators should carry their weight by cheering them on! Consider sitting with others from your school to make your presence known. Carry a banner or signs to show your team spirit. Ring those cowbells when the performance ends so they’ll hear you on the field!


While we want to show support for our kiddos, remember that their competitors are someone’s children, too. Refrain from negative comments in the stands, be considerate of moving only between performances and give a hand to all the performers in recognition of their hard work.

Whether you are a volunteer or spectator, band competition season will find you. It’s a wonderful, wild and exciting time of year! Stay on top of your game with this band competition survival guide for parents and keep your fingers crossed that the kids bring home a winner!