Halloween in the US
Trick-or-treating, carved pumpkins, and scary costumes – that’s how most countries celebrate Halloween on October 31st. These traditions are directly inspired by the US. The only difference is that the celebrations are much bigger over there! While Halloween isn’t considered a public holiday in the US, it’s certainly celebrated like one.
But how did this come to be? We’ll explain everything in this article. One thing is certain: the US celebrates Halloween like no other country. Come along, as we show you the best cities to experience the festivities.
Did you think Halloween came from the US? Well, not so. But don’t worry; it’s a common misconception due to its prominence in the states.
Halloween is believed to originate from Ireland. Over 200 years ago, the Celts used to celebrate the end of the harvest season and the beginning of a new year on the evening of October 31st. The celebrations were always magical, as it was believed that the gate to the spirit world was open, leaving way for ghosts, demons, and other supernatural beings to enter the mortal world. To protect themselves, people put on costumes. The name Halloween comes from All Hallow’s Eve – the evening before All Saints’ Day.
You’re probably wondering how those Celtic festivities crossed the ocean to the United States, and the answer is – with the Irish emigrants. In the early 20th century, they brought this tradition with them as they made their way to America. However, it proved to be a problem for authorities, as young people used to play nasty pranks, sometimes even causing injuries and economic damage.
To counter this, many American cities started organizing special Halloween activities in the 1920s. Spooky costumes started gaining more traction in the 1930s, and, as carnival was hardly celebrated in the US, Halloween was the perfect opportunity to dress up. In the following decades, celebrations and products related to Halloween grew in popularity due to the rise of horror movies.
How is Halloween Celebrated in the US?
US Americans tend to have big celebrations for Halloween – we’ll tell you everything about this spooky evening below!
Unlike in the rest of the world, Halloween costumes don’t have to be scary, although you’ll still run across the classic witches, ghosts, zombies, and skeletons.
In the US, costumes are the most important part of the holiday. Any type of costume is welcome, and there are no limits to creativity. Those putting in the best efforts are often rewarded, as most Halloween parties hold a costume contest. May the best costume win!
Speaking of contests – Americans often try to outdo their neighbors with their Halloween house decorations. The decorations are often prepared days or weeks in advance. You’ll see spider webs hanging from windows, skeletons dangling from trees, and blood leaking from the front of houses. Some people decorate with realistic, gruesome, and scary scenes, to the point where people have called the police to report seeing a crime scene.
You’re probably past the age of dressing up and asking for candy on Halloween, but it’s still popular for young kids today. Many countries have adapted the famous “trick-or-treat” saying in their language, but all of them have kept the same idea – either the homeowner gets a trick or the child gets a treat. In movies, “tricks” or pranks have included toilet papering houses or drawing on cars with soap.
The Best Cities to Celebrate Halloween
While Halloween is widely celebrated all over the US, some places hold particularly big festivities. We’ll tell you which ones below!
Salem – the witch city
Spooky costumes and harmless pranks are one thing – true horror is another. The city of Salem, Massachusetts, is located north of Boston. While seemingly inconspicuous today, the town is known for its gruesome past. In the 17th century, the city held witch trials – people accused of witchcraft were chased, tortured, imprisoned, and then executed.
The city plays with its ‘witch city’ reputation to attract visitors. Every October, the city organizes Haunted Happenings – haunted houses, ghost tours, masquerade balls, and a big parade. With Salem’s dark past in mind, you’re guaranteed to get chills running down your spine.
Anoka – the Halloween pioneer
As we mentioned above, modern Halloween celebrations were created to keep teenagers from playing dangerous pranks. This idea apparently originated in the city of Anoka, Minnesota, where the first Halloween party is said to have been thrown.
Thus, the city is now known as the capital of Halloween. Spend October 31st in Anoka and check out the famous parade that runs through the city!
New York City – the biggest parade
New York is, of course, another good place to visit for this particular holiday. The city holds the largest Halloween parade in the world – the Greenwich Village Parade in Manhattan.
The parade was first held in 1973 and now attracts over two million visitors – a must-see for any Halloween fan! The parade starts on Sixth Avenue, in Greenwich Village. If you want to join in the fun, grab your best costume and be there by 6 PM!
Activities for a Great Halloween
We told you a lot about Halloween in the US – how it crossed the ocean, which customs are typical, and which cities are a must-see during the spookiest day of the year. Now, all you have to do is decide which city you want to head to for a spook-tacular time! Have you already picked one? Perfect! Because now, we’ll list a few activities that will help you have a perfect Hallows Eve.
- Costume contest – Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without a crazy party, right? The coolest thing about these parties is dressing up. Everyone tries to outdo each other with amazingly creative and fun costumes. The incentive? Winning the costume contest! Make sure to participate in one of these – whether you’re at a hip club or a more private party, this is sure to make your night unforgettable.
- Pumpkin carving – This activity should be done before October 31st and is sure to put you in a spooky mood! After all, pumpkin carving is one of the biggest Halloween traditions. The custom of hollowing out and lighting a candle inside a pumpkin also comes from Ireland, as it was believed that pumpkin lanterns would protect the house against ghosts.
- Haunted houses – ready to be scared? Head to a haunted house! But be warned – the bloody costumes and props look frighteningly real. You’ll find haunted houses in most US cities. One of our favorites is the Mortuary Haunted House in New Orleans.
- Halloween Parade – this is where Americans display their love of Halloween. People wearing costumes parade through the city on beautifully terrifying floats. The parades vary in size depending on the city. You can either watch the spectacle or be a part of it yourself!
Costumes, props, and parties – you’ve probably already experienced all this for Halloween, but the US truly does it bigger. Even though the event comes from Ireland, every American looks forward to October 31st every year to show off their creative costumes and decorations.
It’s best to see it for yourself! Head to the witch city of Salem to get a gruesome Halloween experience. Don’t forget Anoka, Minnesota, the self-proclaimed capital of Halloween, where the first festivities in the US were held. Finally, as if it wasn’t hard enough to pick already, keep in mind that the largest Halloween parade in the world takes place in New York City.
No matter which city you end up choosing to experience Halloween in the US – make sure to participate in a costume contest, carve pumpkins, and dare to enter a haunted house. To top it all off, enjoy one of the spectacular parades. Does this sound like fun? Plan your trip with our web app, and off you go!