Halloween in the United States : clichés and traditions

30 October 2015
Halloween Etats-Unis

Bouh ! After a detour through Alcatraz, we come now to Halloween. (We therefore stay approximatively in the same topic, right ?) You probably already know this holiday and you may have gone trick or treating when you were younger. In France (and most of the European countries except Great Britain and Ireland), October 31st is not such a big celebration… Unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, and especially the United States ! (Yes, it is still the subject of the blog !) Americans are absolutely crazy about Halloween and this date is the 2nd most commercialized holiday of the calendar (after Christmas) ! But what are the origins of this celebration ? And what are the Halloween traditions in the US ? Let’s discover this right away 🙂

» What is Halloween actually ?

The exact origin of Halloween is still a bit blurry, it is common belief that it came from an Irish tale. In fact, about 3000 years ago, the Celtic year was finishing on October 31st instead of December 31st. This celebration called Samhain was then the New Year’s Eve and Celts used to celebrate wearing scary costumes to ward off evil and drive away ghosts so they would not haunt them. Emigrating to the United States, especially during the Great Famine (during the 1850’S), Irish and Scottish introduced Halloween to North America. The name itself comes from the contraction of All Hallows Eve, the eve before All Saints’ day (holiday introduced in the 13th century by the Catholic church on November 1st). Halloween was popularized in the United States in the 1920’s, and Americans (at least one in two) nowadays celebrate among adults or with kids, dress up, decorate their homes… You can directly go to the sections you are interested in just below : decoration, food, costumes and make-up and stats.

» What are the traditions regarding decoration ?

One small cliché to start with… But it is true, Americans do not do things halfway ! Therefore, celebrating Halloween is putting the whole country in a very special atmosphere, and the inhabitants are going all in with the decorations. Fake spiderwebs, anatomy skeletons, orange and black ornaments… interiors are dressed in Halloween colors from October on. But the most impressive thing, and also the most visible from outside, are some of the yards ! House owners are decorating their exterior with care (and more or less taste) for this particular period. One of the examples that became known worldwide is a house in California that puts on a whole show with lights and music especially fo Halloween. Check out the video of the 2015 edition right here ! Amazing, right ?

Well, for those who like things less conspicuous, on a tighter budget or with less time on their hands, what about initiating yourselves to pumpkin carving ? Know first that 6 millions tons of pumpkin are sold every year in the US ! Jack O’Lantern is a major symbol of Halloween. Just as a reminder, he was originally character from an Irish tale. One night, Jack signed an agreement with the devil : he would not let Jack in in hell when his time would come, whatever his behavior during his life would be. But Jack was definitely not a respectable guy – penny-pinching, drunk, mean – and when he died, he was not welcomed in heaven. But the devil, keeping his end of the bargain, also did not take his soul. Jack still managed to convince the devil to give him an ember from the flames of Hades in a carved turnip to light up his way in the dark. Jack was sentenced to wander with his lantern until the Final Judgement and reappear every year on the day he dies, October 31st. He is now symbolized by a carved pumpkin with an evil smile and lit up from the inside by a candle. People celebrating Halloween are putting their carved pumpkin on their porch during the celebration. Americans are keen on this tradition and this activity is very popular among adults and children across the country. If you want to try it, here is a tutorial to help you ! You can also check out Martha Steward’s pumpkins over here : you will find a step-by-step guide on her website and some original ideas for the most creative ones. Do not hesitate to look for other Youtube videos, or share your experience by commenting just below !

» One very special Halloween buffet

Celebrating is nothing without food involved, right ? Of course, you cannot escape the tons of candies distributed to children (adults can just steal some… haha). In fact, children are going door to door to ask for sweets – it is called Trick or Treating. In the US, the most popular candy for Halloween are candy corns. Those are essentially made of corn syrup and sugar, and are supposed to mimic the appearance of kernels of corn (even though they are approximatively 3 times bigger). Americans are also keen on candy apples or pumpkin pies. For a perfect holiday, you should not forget to prepare scary meals and desserts ! Witch fingers, brain cake, bloody bloody mary… Find some ideas here or here, or give us your favorite recipes in a comment !

Halloween aux Etats-Unis

» And the main question is… What about the costume ?

Talking about Halloween equals… Costume ! And it is not an aspect taken lightly by Americans ! In 2014, they spent around 2,8 billions of dollars to dress up for the occasion. About 45% of them is planing to finding a costume for the 2015 edition of this popular holiday. Old and young alike are playing along, and an estimation also states that 20 millions Americans are going to get a costume for their pet ! And the most sold items are : the pumpkin and hot dog costumes. Back to humans, 3,2 millions children are going to dress up as a princess, making it the most popular disguise for the 11th year in a row – followed closely by Batman characters. For adults, witch costumes are winning the day, also for the 11th year in a row. To avoid those clichés, how are they doing to find an original idea ? 33% of Americans are looking for inspiration in shops directly, whereas 34,2% of them are brainstorming on the Internet. A new trend for this year : Pinterest. 11,4% of Americans are going to find their costume on this social network in 2015, a 9,3% raise compared to 2014. Even the giant Google is helping with the creation of the Frightgeist website. You can find there the most popular costumes of the ongoing year (or at least the most wanted on search engines) and how they are evolving over the weeks. You can check out the national trends but also the regional ones, according to where you plan to spend the night on October 31st if you are in the US. For 2015, the 10 most searched costumes are : Harley Quinn, Star Wars, superheroes, pirates, Batman, Minnie Mouse, witch, minion, Joker and Wonder Woman. Feel free to either follow the trend or have a better idea embody a unique character ! (You can see that not all the costumes are scary, it is not the most important criterium – and Americans just enjoy the occasion to dress up as their favorite characters, or even objects.)

Halloween aux Etats-Unis

And make-up goes with the costume of course ! With a bit of inspiration and creativity, you can perfectly complete your disguise, or create a whole new one. And you will find plenty of tutorials online, and especially on Youtube, to have an appearance worthy of the American celebration. If you understand French (well, Canadian French from Québec… but let’s not go down that road for now haha), I would recommend Cynthia Dulude‘s Youtube channel. The blogger from Montréal made a whole playlist with tons of different and well explained Halloween make-ups (Harry Potter, Marilyn Monroe, demon…). But for sure, English speakers will find plenty of videos to create the perfect look to impress your friends ! Here is an example :

» Statistics about Halloween in the US ?

No problem, you ask and I deliver ! As I was saying, Americans are crazy about Halloween. Every year, 19 millions cards (yes, like greeting cards) are sent across the country. In fact, 64% of the population is celebrating Halloween and the favorite activities are : distributing candies (71,1% of Americans), decorate their house and yard (46,7%) or dressing up (45,8%). 1 in 3 Americans is going to host or go to a party during Halloween week. The average basket for costume, candy and ornament purchase is around 75$. Altogether, 6,9 billions of dollars are going to be spent on this holiday in 2015 – including 2,1 billions just for the sweets. Valentine’s Day is actually no longer the holiday on which the amount of candy bought is the highest : twice as much chocolate is sold for Halloween than for the lovers’ day. It represent 40,8 millions kilograms of chocolate for October 31st week only. And probably a few upset stomachs… !

So, are you now unbeatable about Halloween ? If you are currently roadtriping around the United States (or planing to go to the US for this period next year), check out USA Today‘s list of the best places to celebrate here (according to numerous criteria : the number of costume stores per 100 000 residents, the weather forecasts for October 31, the average cost of a Halloween party ticket, the number of candy stores per capita…). New York is of course on top of the list, but you will also find some place to celebrate on the West coast : Gilbert and Chandler in Arizona and Santa Ana in California in the Top 10 ! Do not forget to customize your car or van for the occasion and to find yourself a costume – but also to share with me your pictures on Facebook or Instagram 🙂

Sources : GloCNNNational Retail FederationEuropusaNBC Los Angeles

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