It was immigrants from Scotland and Ireland that brought Halloween to America, during the 18th and 19th centuries. Until then it wasn’t celebrated, in fact it was frowned upon by New England patriots since it is, of course, technically a pagan festivity. But Halloween quickly took root, and now it is one of the most celebrated events in the United States, after Christmas and the Superbowl, with Americans seeming to take even more pleasure in it than all of us back in Europe. Unlike the UK though, which usually celebrates Halloween only on the one evening before becoming absorbed by Bonfire Night and setting off fireworks in the middle of the night to upset your neighbours, in America the whole of October is taken over by Halloween.
Here are some of America’s greatest Halloween traditions, which hardly surprisingly are much like our own, just done on a bit of a larger scale like everything else over there!
Trick Or Treating
This is a staple of many childhoods. In fact I remember going trick or treating around town when I was in my early twenties, under a white sheet, probably a bit the worse for drink. The tradition stems from a belief that you need to be kind to the memories of your ancestors, or they’ll come back to get you. In America, an amazing 85% or so of children go trick or treating, usually with their parents in tow, and in full costume. It’s not uncommon to see huge herds of them sweeping through a neighbourhood like a swarm of hungry, noisy locusts, filling sacks with candy to be devoured once they get home. Any residents that forget to stock up, or don’t buy enough candy to satisfy the cravings of the children, can expect their home to be egged or covered in toilet roll by the next morning.
When I first heard about this I thought it was something to do with poltergeists or exorcisms, but turns out to be nothing so sinister. It’s basically Americans decking out their front yards in as scary a fashion as they can, kind of like a house of horror. Thousands of people take part apparently, much like they do for Christmas with Santa on his sleigh and the elves. Extreme lengths are gone to by many home haunters, who spend weeks creating the spookiest environment they can. Sounds like an awful lot of effort to me, but there we go.
Carving Jack O’Lanterns
There are various interpretations of how Jack O’Lanterns came to be associated with Halloween, one of which is that their light is used to reveal vampires and protect the home against the undead. In America, they use pumpkins almost exclusively whereas Britons mainly used turnips. First a hole is cut at the top of the pumpkin, or whatever vegetable you’re using, preserving the stalk. Then the insides are scooped out and either cooked or thrown away. Then a face, or more artistic design, is carved into the wall of the pumpkin. The finishing touch is to light a candle that illuminates the carving, and then the top is replaced. They are placed in the window, or on the lawn, and they look great at night. Jack O’Lanterns also a sign that trick-or-treaters are welcome at your home, although to be honest, they’re probably going to turn up whether there’s a lit pumpkin outside or not.
Americans, like everyone I guess, love any excuse for a party, and Halloween guarantees fun. They go in big time for costumes, spending close to $2 billion a year on them, $2 billion! Naturally all the old classics like witches, skeletons and vampires come out to play, but also a lot of figures from popular culture can be seen, as well as all manner of weird DIY nasties.
You can see for yourself the full-on craziness of Halloween over the Atlantic when you take a tour with companies such as Grand American Adventures.
Rob totally loves Halloween and is eagerly researching what the good people of Portugal usually do on 31st October.