Dispatches from England: Our First British Halloween – Do the British Celebrate?

pumpkinpopcakes

As I’m sure you noticed, Halloween came and went last week. I got a lot of questions about how the holiday is celebrated here (or if it is celebrated at all). Here are a few of my observations from our first British Halloween.

  • Trick or treating is not the focus. Yes, kids do trick or treat here. But it is not as widely accepted as it is in the U.S. In other words, most kids where we live don’t. I live on a fairly busy street, and we had one trick or treater that evening (and the weather was beautiful). Where I live, you indicate that your household is participating by putting a pumpkin by your door. I know several families who actually gave their neighbors some candy in advance to give to their kids in order to ensure there was a treat on hand for them.
  • The costumes are spookier and scarier. In the U.S., you can dress up as anything, from a baseball player to a beloved cartoon character to a princess. It’s what the British would call “fancy dress.” But here, the costumes are very much Halloween-focused. Ghosts, skeletons, witches, etc.
  • The grocery stores are trying to make it a bigger deal than it actually is. You can tell that the stores are trying to capitalize on candy, decoration and other related purchases. In fact, the only real decorations I saw for Halloween were in the stores themselves. No home had decorated door fronts, at least not in my village. I did spy the occasional carved pumpkin in a window.
  • There were several Halloween-themed events scheduled, particularly as a draw to get visitors to touristy places, like National Trust properties, farms, and theme parks. And I noticed this weekend that on Strictly Come Dancing, the popular ballroom dance competition television show, Halloween was the theme.

So how did we celebrate? We started the week by buying some pumpkins at the grocery store, which we painted. In the U.S., we would have definitely visited a pumpkin patch for that, but frankly I didn’t have time to research if there was anyplace to go for that near us. Picking a couple up while I was at the store was much more convenient.

We chose not to trick or treat. I wasn’t sure how popular or accepted it was in our village, and I wanted to respect the local culture here. In hindsight, I think we could have visited a few homes without much fuss. We will probably plan to do that next year. Frankly, it’s not all the candy that I missed. It is the comraderie with neighbors that I love about Halloween… your yearly excuse to knock on doors, say hello, and marvel at how much the kids have grown and changed since last year.

Instead, we went to a Halloween party at our village pub. It was lots of fun, with games, stories, pumpkin carving and cupcake decorating. My four-year-old, dressed as Spiderman, observed that the costumes were “really scary” and complained that he didn’t get any candy. Luckily, his grandmother back in the U.S. sent him a package full of some of his favorites (and candy corn for my husband and I, which we don’t have here). So we “treated” him when we got home from the party.

All in all, while it was different than how we would have celebrated in the U.S., it was an enjoyable day. And when asked by friends and family back home if they celebrate Halloween here, my answer remains, “sorta.”

 


Comments

  1. avatar says

    When I was a kid in Scotland we usually had a house party. I remember only going out to trick or treat once, and in order to get something you had to sing or perform in some way.

  2. avatarPhilip says

    It’s the same in London. We had a lot of trick or treating in our neighbourhood, but not so much on our street (just us). Look for a light, a pumpkin and a decoration it’s fair game to knock on the door. We also did a local pub where the adults were having some “beverages” and the kids were playing all sorts of games. Everyone was dressed up and it was very much evil this, dead that, vampires, ghouls, etc. We also do an “American” party every year that is, as you rightly noted that the British call it, “fancy dress”. When we first came 10 years ago, there was hardly any Halloween at all. Today, it’s much more common; but, it’s not the same as in the US either.

    • avatar says

      Interesting to know that it seems to be picking up momentum. (Quite honestly, I’m not that big into Halloween myself, but since my 4-year-old distinctly remembers it, we had to figure out something!) :)

  3. avatarCathy Keathley says

    Just wait….once British stores figure out how many £££ they can make from Halloween, they’ll be all over it!
    Like anything else that’s new & untested, it may take a while…..but probably not too long.

  4. avatarMJ says

    The KCWC is a London Women’s club that has a huge Halloween party every year. Your kids will love it! They’re easily found online. It is a life saver for expats of all nationalities who want to make friends in their new home city.

  5. avatarAmy says

    We lived there about 10 years ago and we did have about 10 to 15 kids each year. They didn’t really dress up though. Just some paint splattered all over themselves to look gory. We sort of stuck out like a sore thumb with my husband’s F-150 truck, so all of our neighbors would send their kids to us to help celebrate.

  6. avatarJulie McCoy says

    Everything American crosses the pond eventually, with the exception of July 4th for obvious reasons :) They even have proms now, which we never had when I was growing up there. I love the custom of Trick or Treating and my kids loved it when growing up in California.

  7. avatarMinerva says

    It depends…………….if you are pagan, then the Samhain festival is important……………..but then it’s a ‘religious festival’, not just an excuse to wander about demanding sweets.
    We have a fire, food, ceremonies & singing………..for us it’s not just entertainment in a daft outfit.

    Glad you have fun your own way……but it must be remembered there is a deeper meaning for Hallowe’en for some of us.

Leave a Reply