Halloween Traditions in the US
Next Monday is October 31st . Why is that important, you may ask? Because it’s one of my favorite days of the year! I finally get to write about Halloween traditions in the US! Halloween is always on October 31st and it’s one of the best holidays ever! I remember my grandma dressing up (wearing a costume) as a witch, and us kids trick-or-treating around the neighborhood (the area where people live).
Now that I’m an adult (a fully grown person), I don’t trick-or-treat anymore, but I still dress up- even though my costumes are usually bad, carve pumpkins, and watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”
Halloween is a great time to feel like a kid again and it’s a favorite holiday of many children. Here are three Halloween traditions we love and where they come from. If you ever go to the States for Halloween, you can impress your American hosts with your knowledge (what you know) of these Halloween traditions!
Dressing up in costumes is the most recognizable (to know something from before) and fun part of Halloween. Kids and adults from ages 0-99 dress up as ghosts, witches, vampires, movie characters, with a partner as a duo like Hansel & Gretel, a nurse & doctor, Sonny & Cher, Mr. & Mrs. Claus, or as a popular phrase like “Time flies”, “Blue Moon” or other popular idioms. People can be VERY creative!
It’s a night where you can leave your normal self behind and you get the chance to be someone or something else, even if only for a few hours.
Wearing costumes on Halloween may have started with the Celts. They celebrated Halloween, or Samhain, as a harvest (the food grown on a farm/field) festival and the beginning of winter. The boundary (border, limit) between our world and the sprit world was said to be thinner on Halloween and the souls of the dead roamed (moved around with no purpose) the earth for the night.
No one really knows exactly where the tradition of dressing up came from, though it may be a mix of pre-Christian and Christian traditions where people would dress up in disguise (a way to hide one’s identity) to confuse the spirits.
As a kid, trick-or-treating was one of the best Halloween traditions. You would go from house to house (in your costume, of course!) in your neighborhood, knock on the door, and when someone answered, you would say “trick-or-treat!” Your neighbors would then give you mini candy bars, chewing gum, gummy bears, or other candies, and you then you would go to the next house. The best houses always had full-sized candy bars or cans of soda.
Trick-or-treating only became popular in America in the 1920s, but it’s now one of our favorite traditions. The phrase “trick-or-treat” originally meant that if your neighbor doesn’t give you candy (a treat), you’ll play a trick on (fool, deceive) them- usually with a small prank.
This walking around custom comes from the old practice of “mumming,” or “mummering” which is when people in the Middle Ages would dress up and go from house to house reciting (repeating from memory) bits of poetry (literature in a set form) or song in exchange for food. Mumming was usually done on holidays as a way to visit with friends, just like trick-or-treating is for kids and their parents now. Christmas carolling is also done in the same way with carollers singing from house to house.
Last but certainly not least, Americans love carving (cutting a form or design into something) pumpkins at Halloween. We dig out the seeds inside, carve one side of large pumpkins to look like faces, put candles in the middle of them, and put them in front of our doorsteps to welcome the trick-or-treaters.
In it’s finished state (condition, status) when a pumpkin is carved and lit up, it is called a “Jack-o-Lantern.”
Did you know that carving pumpkins actually started with carving turnips (root vegetable)? That’s right!
In the late 1800s, Catholic children would carve faces into turnips, use them as small lamps, and carry them from door to door asking for “soul cakes” which were small biscuits that were meant to represent releasing (letting go of) a soul (spirit, life with no form) from Purgatory on November 1st and 2nd.
Now our pumpkins are too large for children to carry with them as they trick-or-treat and dangerous (likely to do harm) if they have a burning candle in them! So, the pumpkins sit in front of our houses with large golden smiles on their faces and wait to greet (welcome) kids who come knocking on our doors.
I hope you can enjoy some Halloween traditions this year! Whether you’re dressing up as a vampire and going to a party, or just watching your favorite scary movie at home, I hope you bring a little bit of witchy-ness and Halloween fun into your day.
Do you plan on confusing the spirits on Halloween this year? Do people in your country also dress up? Maybe for Carnival or Mardi Gras instead? Do know of other Halloween traditions? Or do you have a special tradition of your own?
Share your Halloween plans with us in the comments below!
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Erin Duffin lives in Berlin, is an English teacher, yoga instructor, and wishes you a Happy Halloween!
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