Halloween is an American holiday that comes on October 31. Unlike the major holidays of, say, Thanksgiving or Christmas, where schools and businesses are closed, this is a smaller holiday like Valentine's Day. Much to kids' disappointment, schools are in session on Halloween.
In recent years, it seems a number of Americans, especially some Christians, do not celebrate Halloween because of its origins involving witchcraft and some "scary stuff." Plus, as time goes on, more and more people find it unwise to let their children take candy from total strangers! Still, it is a popular holiday, one in which spending has greatly increased (much to merchants' pleasure).
In the US, one sees Halloween approaching by seeing pumpkins, candy, and some other Halloween decorations for sale, starting usually in September.
Mums and pumpkins for sale
Pumpkins and gourds for sale
Pumpkins for sale
Probably the most famous decoration associated with Halloween is the Jack-o-Lantern. (I love the Chinese translation for that:南瓜灯 literally, "pumpkin lantern.") One makes a Jack-o-Lantern by drawing a face on a pumpkin, cutting off the top, hollowing out the "insides," cutting out the face, and putting in a lit candle. Most people then display their pumpkin in a window or by their front door. Unknown to many people is how the Jack-o-Lantern, and the actual holiday of Halloween itself, is an example of the US as a "melting pot" of different cultures. The actual origin is uncertain, but long ago an Irish legend held that a man named Jack was doomed to walk around earth, after his death, carrying a light inside a turnip (they didn't have pumpkins in Ireland--pumpkins are American). As immigrants from Ireland moved to the US, they brought the traditions of Jack-o-Lanterns and going door to door for treats on Oct. 31 with them. In the calendars of some Christian traditions, November 1 is All Saints (Hallows) Day, so the night before is All Hallow's Eve, later shortened to Halloween.
Carving the Jack-o-Lantern
Carving the Jack-o-Lantern
Ready for Halloween!
Learn more about the origins of Halloween in this video. You can also learn more about the history of the Jack-o-Lantern here.
Today some homeowners decorate their homes for the holiday. For most people, a Jack-o-Lantern or scarecrow are enough, but some decorations are downright spooky. In addition to decorating, many homeowners buy a few bags of candy to give out to children who may come to their door. On Halloween, often starting an hour or two before dark, children go door to door and yell "trick or treat!" Most parents prefer to go with their children, especially young children,and only go to homes where they know the residents. Coming home after trick or treating and dumping out all the candy on the floor or table to see how much "loot" they got is a joy for children on the night of October 31.
A recent alternative to Halloween and Trick-or-Treating is "Trunk-or-Treating." This celebration, usually held in a church parking lot, involves people decorating the back of their car ("the trunk") and parking their cars in neat rows, with the trunks all facing the same direction. The children still dress up, but instead of going door to door, which involves walking on dark streets and maybe going to strangers' homes, this is all in one place, a church parking lot. Plus, Trunk or Treating is with people you know, so many see it as a safer and more wholesome alternative to the traditional Halloween celebrations.
Trunk or Treating
I still remember my first Halloween outside the US. I was living in Germany, attending my junior year of university, and some of us wanted to somehow celebrate the holiday, which was a non-event in Germany. Of course no US-style big, orange pumpkins were anywhere for sale, but someone somehow found a small gourd, about the size of a baseball, which one of us carved out and I think managed to put a tiny birthday candle it. That was about the extent of our Halloween celebration in Germany! Of course, Halloween during my ten years in Taiwan was usually a "non-event," except for the five years when I taught at the Bilingual Department at the National Experimental High School. Since most of the students we had there had lived in the US before, they missed Halloween, and a few nights some students actually came by our apartment in the Science Park, trick-or-treating! That was fun, having trick-or-treaters at the door... in Taiwan!
Overall, many people find Halloween a very fun and enjoyable holiday. Kids love the candy. And once you get to Halloween, you know Thanksgiving and Christmas are not far away!
We hope you'll join us for a semester in the USA. You may get to experience this or other holidays! http://dreyercoaching.com/en/come-to-the-usa/housing