Lost in the Pond: 5 Major Differences Between English And American Halloween Traditions

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It’s that time of year again when the spooks come out to play and the horror houses open up for business, when sales of sweets (candy in American English) skyrocket and when kids play dress-up in the pursuit of said sweets. However, while Halloween is celebrated in both England and the United States, each country has its own list of unspoken rules. Indeed, here a 5 major differences between English and American Halloween traditions.

1. Pumpkins

While the English have counted pumpkins as a symbol of Halloween since the 1970s (thanks entirely to American influence), The United States is far more replete with them. Indeed, in the state of Illinois alone, around 500 million pumpkins are produced in an average year, with surrounding states not far behind. Compare this to UK estimates (around 4 million a year) and you start to see a wildly varying degree of emphasis placed on pumpkins by the two countries. Moreover, of course, the USA loves to produce pumpkin-flavored food items and beverages, such as pumpkin beer, pumpkin cake pops and pumpkin pie. These are by no means as common in England.

2. Treats

While door-to-door festivities have been on the decline in both countries in recent years – presumably amid media-driven fears for child safety – trick-or-treating still remains a key tradition among both the English and the Americans. However, in England – though sweets are very much welcome – another expectation for a trick-or-treater is that residents will be kind enough to treat them monetarily. Ironically, in the United States, famously the more capitalist of the two nations, no such expectation exists and it is considered rare for kids to be handed anything other than candy.

3. Costumes

When one thinks of Halloween costumes, the immediate thought that springs to mind is one of ghosts, ghouls and monsters. Indeed, with zombies, vampires and witches being all the rage (haha, get it?), both countries do market such costumes en masse at this time of year. However, it is not usual among American Halloween revelers – particularly those of a more mature disposition – to don costumes utterly unconnected to the supernatural, including princess costumes, presidential masks (covering virtually every US president from JFK to Barack Obama) and costumes depicting various movie characters. While again, this is not unheard of back in England, it is not such a prevalent idea.

4. Alteration of the clocks

When comparing English and American Halloween traditions, I would be remiss to not mention both countries’ altering of the clocks either side of Halloween. In what is officially known as the end of English summer time, the English put their clocks back one hour every year on the last Sunday of October – usually before October 31st. Americans, meanwhile, turn their clocks back at the end of daylight savings time on the first Sunday of November (that’s this coming Sunday, in case you forgot!). What this means, of course, is that the English enjoy one extra hour of darkness on the night of Halloween. In fact, when you consider that England is higher up in the Northern Hemisphere than all of the US except for Alaska, you’d be right to imagine that the old island is already getting more darkness regardless of time changes.

5. Decorations

As with Christmas, there is a gigantic disparity between English and American Halloween decorations. While you might see the odd (sometimes very odd) half arsed pumpkin in an English front garden, England doesn’t treat Halloween with anywhere near as much artistic frivolity as its counterpart across the Pond. Indeed, driving through suburban America at this time of year can be more like an extended tour of one of those Halloween haunted houses, such is the individual dedication to monstifying one’s garden.


Comments

  1. avatarDixiebrit says

    Laurence,

    Great article! You had most everything right. However, in some areas, trick-or-treating is heavily frowned upon.

    I lived in Surrey for about 8 years and we NEVER took our daughter trick-or-treating the neighborhood. Other children who had tried it would have doors slammed in their faces and people would tell them they had a nerve to ask for treats. Instead, since I was part of the American Women’s club in the area, we would go to the American School and take part in the trunk-or-treat there. They did a great job and always had hot dogs, chili, hot chocolate available, plus two spook alleys for the little kids and big kids to enjoy. Everyone loved it – even my Brit husband who had never experienced it.

    The only trick-or-treaters we ever had at our home were a couple of British kids in the neighborhood who knew I was a Yank. They would drape a bed sheet or something around their shoulders, grab a pillowcase and come and trick-or-treat me. I thought they were great. On the occasion when I hadn’t seen them before we left for our event, I would leave a basket of candy on the porch and a note to help themselves. They were truly a fun group.

  2. avatarTray says

    In Leeds England in the mid 1980s when I was in university as a foreign student, there was no appreciable celebration of Halloween at all. The closest similar sort of autumnal celebration was Guy Fawkes Day (5th Nov) when kids on the street would ask for ” a penny for the Guy,” meaning their scarecrow looking stuffed effigy. Apparently bonfires happened at night. No pumkins…no sweets…no kids dressing up.

  3. avatar says

    I personally hate Halloween. Boo humbug. So somewhere at the bottom of my list of reasons to live in England is that they don’t celebrate this American commercially co-opted holiday.

  4. avatarHeather Hennessey says

    You all have missed the point…..Halloween is a Celtic tradition ,Samhain, and in Ireland, Scotland and the north of England has always been celebrated. It celebrates the harvest being in and the beginning of winter. We didnt trick or treat but we did do ‘apple dowking’ , our lanterns were made from turnips not pumkins which were unheard of. Our parents told us spooky tales. We were made aware of how thin the veil was between our world and the next on this special evening when ghosts and ghouls abounded! Halloween has now been taken over by the American tradition, I find it sad.

  5. avatarABC says

    We are expats celebrating our first Halloween here in UK. I was glad to find pumpkins to carve but they arent the easy jack o lantern type they are the thivk skinned pie making kind…and I had to find libby canned pumpkin through an American service man. The pound shop had some good decorations.

  6. avatarDave D says

    “Halloween is a Celtic tradition ,Samhain, and in Ireland, Scotland and the north of England has always been celebrated.”

    We also celebrated it in the south of England, as a kid in the 50′s/60′s I remember apple dunking. Unfortunately as mentioned it has been Americanised, along with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day.

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