If change is the only constant, the Halloween holiday is no exception. The Christian festival of All Saints started in the 8th century AD and was likely an offshoot of the much older Celtic holiday, Samhain, a time to celebrate the end of the harvest and honor the dead. Twelve centuries later, every child across America knows the words “trick or treat.”

Romantic visions of apple-bobbing and rustic barn room dances in bygone years gave way to the neighborhood walkabouts of my generation. But as the world gets bigger—and parents become more concerned about safety—the face of Halloween continues to evolve. Parents ferry their children to safer towns and neighborhoods (like Benicia), and malls and have gotten in on the action so parents can shop while kids go store-to-store. Neighborhood trick-or-treating is sadly no longer the national Halloween norm.

But have no fear—only a fright—our historic, safe and kid-friendly community abounds with ghoulish festivities this October. Benicia Main Street presents a ghost walk, haunted depot, pumpkin patch, and kids’ costume contest and sidewalk stroll. A canine and critter costume contest will follow, with treats and awards. First street merchants also get into the spirit with Halloween goodies and a highly competitive scarecrow contest.

An aspect of holidays that should always stay central is community togetherness and participation. In days of yore, people were drawn together by necessity, to pool resources to harvest and prepare meat and grains for the long winter ahead. And ritualization of these tasks put everyone on the same page.  While consumerism has become a holiday ritual, it will never replace the feeling of connection to friends, family and community. Benicia has geographic advantages with its watery backdrop and historic Main Street that lends itself so fittingly to autumn festivities.

Larry Davis, executive pastor of Northgate Christian Fellowship, shares Benicia’s vision for community involvement. His Trunk or Treat event was born out of a desire to serve kids, and recreate the old-time Halloween feel in a safe and fun environment. Last year the event took place at the Solano Square Shopping Center, with over 5000 participants, 40 decorated trunks full of treats, carnival games and a costume contest. “We want to make sure there’s something for all kids, from babies to teenagers, even dogs. One of the big pieces is to continue to create and build community here in town.” Davis’ goal is to expand the event to Vallejo, and eventually hold it at the Solano County Fairgrounds. This year’s Vallejo location is still to be determined as we go to press.

Autumn is a special time of year and here in the Bay Area, Halloween marks the end of Indian summer and the beginning of colder, shorter days. There’s an instinct to cook more warm food and take time to gather with friends and family. In addition to the festivities, use this Halloween as an opportunity to celebrate with crisp apples, pumpkin carving, games and treats.

Local Pumpkin Patches and Events

Matt and Mark Cooley’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, 10/1-31, 6585 Milk Farm Rd, Dixon. 530.304.0163, coolpatchpumpkins.com. Started in 2000, the maze was in the Guinness Book of world records in 2007. This year’s maze is 53 acres and features a pumpkin patch, scarecrow contest, teepee village & giant pumpkin smashing.

Western Railway Museum’s Pumpkin Patch Festival,
10/12-27, 5848 State Highway 12, Suisun City, 707.374.2978, wrm.org. Ride a historic train to get your Halloween pumpkins and enjoy a hale bale fort, tractor rides, music, games & food in a country setting. Trains to the Pumpkin Patch Festival depart every 30 minutes, beginning at 10am.

Haunted Depot, 10/18-20, 25-27, 31. 90 First Street, Benicia. 707.745.9791, beniciamainstreet.org. The normally mild-mannered Southern Pacific Railroad Depot will be mysteriously transformed into a frightful depository of ghosts, goblins and spirits.

Halloween Costume Contest & Sidewalk Stroll, 10/26, 10am. First Street Green. 707.745.9791, beniciamainstreet.org. For kids of all ages. First Street merchants participate for all to enjoy. Canine & Critter Costume Contest with treats and awards.

Erickson Ranch Carve and Q, 10/26, 11am-4pm, 2482 Cordelia Rd., Suisun Valley, 707.864.0557, ericksonranch.com. Features Charlie Wade Blues band, Nick’s BBQ, wildlife, jam tasting, food, hay rides, pumpkin carving.

Second Annual Trunk or Treat, 10/31, 6-8:15pm, Solano Square, Benicia (click here for info). For Vallejo location click here. Kids & teens of all ages are welcome for an old-fashioned trick-or-treat from decorated drunks. Costume contest, carnival games, music & dancing.