Here in Holland, the idea of what Halloween entails is...in simplest terms, wrong wrong wrong.
Growing up with Halloween being my favorite holiday, I find that the charm of the season stems from the wholesome design of the holiday. It is meant, first and foremost, for children. (Reminder: this is my assessment of the holiday, not applicable to everyone.) Trick or treating in costumes with friends. Pumpkin patches with your family. Bobbing for apples to win fun prizes. Getting lost in corn mazes. Haunted houses that spook you and your friends out more than you care to admit. Not sleeping for the month of October because of the ghost stories your older cousin shared. Watching the Peanuts Halloween Special.
It's all very family oriented, and here in Amsterdam I am often confronted with Halloween being about large raves and scary/sexy costuming. It makes me feel that, with the Americanized interpretation of the holiday proliferating culture here, we are left with contrary depictions of the All Hallow's Eve. It is one of my favorite holidays, and it's the beginning of the most festive part of the year.
Given that, how does one design for Halloween? If you, a designer, have a client that needs some Halloween design work done, how do you go about doing so? My question lies in a cultural diversion with the representation of the holiday. The key thing is to think about the demographic, and utilize the plethora of pre-existing relevant content.
Everyone loves Jack O' Lanterns. Like most American traditions, the history behind the friendly faced pumpkin started with immigrants. Irish immigrants brought part of their culture with them in regard to this time of year, and it has rather Celtic roots in purpose. In Ireland, they carved faces into turnips to ward off evil spirits. I can't imagine the turnips looking very nice, given the warped look of the vegetable. Any who, with pumpkins being native to America, the shift in which vegetable to desecrate changed over. Jack O' Lanterns are, to me, the hallmark of the holiday in terms of branding. When you see a Jack O' Lantern, you know exactly which holiday you are representing.
Black cats exist all days of the year, and are no different from other cats. However, there is a certain reverence and mystery surrounding the darkest of felines at this time of the year. Black cats are often touted as familiars to witches, and became popularized at figures of the holiday when European Puritanical religious superstitions made their way to the shores of the New World. The New World Pilgrims believed a number of things about the cats: that the cats were actually witches themselves, women who could transform into this stealthy feline (in Mexico witches can turn into owls, which is far more terrifying). They also believed, for centuries prior to making their way across the Atlantic, that black cats were gifts from Satan himself to these witchy women. There is a long history of this superstition in Europe, and it's very interesting to see the implications of it in popularized American media (for example, Sabrina the Teenage Witch). So if you want to overload your design with religious superstition neatly packaged and personified, a black cat will do just fine.
Ghosts have a really, really, incredibly long tradition in Halloween that predates American revitalization of the holiday; if you want a proper education on the subject, I would suggest taking time to research it all as it varies from culture to culture and has notable shifts in regard to the influence of the Church. It is a mergence of Celtic traditions, harvest festivals around the world, and religion. The function of putting on costumes was intended to scare off spirits, and thus a blanket looking ghost emerged as a significant icon of the holiday. It's the one time of year where we get to scare them instead!
I can go on and on, but won't. The fact of the matter is that Halloween is a holiday full of icons and is a great representation of Americana: the influence of immigrant culture all mashed together into something distinctly American. Even though many roots are founded in Europe, the holiday as it exists in the United States is far different than what you see in European countries. The closest thing is perhaps Sint-Maartens here in the Netherlands, and the tradition of seeking candy on that day is akin to trick or treating.
So when thinking about design, take into consideration the history behind these relevant holiday icons. You can look to Hollywood or the history books. Personally, the books fascinate me and starting there before going to the highly commercialized Hollywood interpretation will give your holiday design a little more heart and depth.