Keep scrolling to learn 10 ways in which people celebrate Halloween in the US and the UK, from the costumes they wear to the kinds of candy they eat.
In Scotland and the Isle of Man, Halloween’s Celtic roots are honored through Samhain celebrations.
While Americans don’t usually emphasise Halloween’s Celtic roots, the holiday’s ancient, Pagan forebear ― Samhain ― is still celebrated in Scotland and on the Isle of Man, one of the British Channel Islands, as well as Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Meaning “summer’s end,” Samhain (which takes place from October 31 to November 1) marks the end of the harvest season and symbolises the divide between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
Samhain celebrations feature rituals such as bonfires and dancing.
Another fall holiday is actually a bigger deal than Halloween in the UK.
Guy Fawkes Day (also known as Guy Fawkes Night and Bonfire Night) has historically been more significant than Halloween in the UK.
Celebrated with parades, bonfires, and fireworks on November 5 ― you might be familiar with the rhyme “Remember, remember the fifth of November” ― Guy Fawkes Day commemorates the failed Gunpowder Plot. The scheme, orchestrated by Roman Catholics in 1605, was an attempt to blow up Parliament in response to King James I’s refusal to expand the religious freedom of Catholics.
The commercialized, American version of Halloween, however, is also taking off.
“I have a distinct sense that Halloween is overtaking or has overtaken Guy Fawkes Night,” James Sharpe of the University of York told Smithsonian Magazine in 2014.
In the US, costumes aren’t always “scary.”
Brits tend to wear more traditional Halloween costumes, dressing up as ghosts, zombies, and other fearsome creatures.
“In the US, when kids go trick-or-treating, it seems any costume goes, even costumes that aren’t necessarily ‘Halloween-y’ (including princesses, Spider-Man and so on),” wrote a Quora user with dual US/UK citizenship. “In the UK, we stick to the more traditional horror-inspired ghost/vampire/zombie/Frankenstein/ghoul costumes.”
According to a 2017 survey from the Halloween Industry Association, witch costumes were the most popular choice for adults in the US, while action/superhero costumes topped the kids’ category. In fact, Americans spent a total of $US3.4 billion on costumes last year.
Brits don’t go wild with Halloween decor.
It’s rare for people in the UK to put up an excessive amount of Halloween decorations.
“You’ll rarely see anyone decorating their house with Halloween stuff, apart from maybe a pumpkin in the porch or something,” wrote a Quora user.
There are some Halloween treats you can only get in the US (and vice versa).
Some Halloween treats are exclusive to the US, while others are only available in the UK. For instance, in a video posted by YouTube user Raphael Gomes it seems candy corn and pumpkin spice cotton candy aren’t a thing across the pond. But spooky sweets like Nestlé Milkybar Ghosts and Cadbury Pumpkin Patch Cakes are sold seasonally in the UK.
That being said, online shopping means you can order your favourite candy no matter where you live.
Trick-or-treating is more common in the US.
Going door to door for candy is not as big a deal in the UK.
“I took my kids trick-or-treating when I lived in the UK but it was pretty low-key. Not many adults dressed in costumes,” said a British Quora user who relocated to California.
Additionally, Brits might be more inclined to eat Halloween candy themselves rather than distribute it to kids.
“We’re more likely to buy the Halloween sweets and eat them ourselves watching whatever spooky film they have put on telly for the occasion,” said one Reddit user.
But it has origins in the Scottish and Irish tradition of “guising.”
Dating to the middle ages, guising ― a shortening of disguising ― refers to the tradition of dressing kids in old clothes and having them mimic evil spirits on Halloween (known then as the Eve of All Saints Day or All Hallows Eve). Going from house to house, they would be given offerings for warding off evil.
Today in Scotland, children still go guising. But they’re expected to show off a talent (like singing or reciting a poem) in order to receive a treat.
“As a youngster, I remember going out dressed as [a] ghoul demanding a treat, however, I had to perform a song to receive it,” wrote a Quora user from Scotland. “In this, I was continuing the custom that generations before me had carried out.”
A city in Northern Ireland is famous for its annual, four-day-long Halloween fest.
In Derry, the second-largest city in Northern Ireland, people celebrate Halloween with a four-day-long event called the Banks of the Foyle Carnival. The festivities include a haunted house, a parade, and more.
A 2015 USA Today readers’ poll named Derry the best place in the world to celebrate Halloween.
In Scotland and Ireland, it’s traditional to carve a rutabaga or turnip instead of a pumpkin.
Pumpkins are synonymous with autumn, and it’s hard to think of Halloween without picturing a glowing jack-o’-lantern.
People in some parts of the UK, however, make lanterns from other root vegetables ― namely, rutabagas or turnips. The practice can possibly be traced to an Irish legend about a man named Jack who was cursed to wander the Earth by the light of a turnip lantern.
“This is a very old tradition in Scotland and Ireland based on will o’ the wisps and Celtic mythology,” Donna Heddle, professor of Northern Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands, told the BBC. When immigrants from these countries came to the US and couldn’t find turnips, they used pumpkins instead, she explained.
“Mischief Night” is a thing in some regions of the US ― but it has origins in the UK.
According to Vox, New Jersey and surrounding areas (such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), the night before Halloween is known as “Mischief Night” ― an evening of vandalism via toilet-papering, egging, and other pranks.
Elsewhere in the US, pre-Halloween hijinks are referred to as “Devil’s Night” and “Cabbage Night.”
Mischief Night, however,actually has origins in the UK, according to The Guardian. A similar tradition is observed in northern England and the Midlands region, where it’s known as “Miggy Night” and “Mizzy Night.”
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