Your First Halloween in the U.S. – 5 Things to Expect:
Halloween—there is no denying that this October celebration is an important part of American culture. Although not an ‘official’ U.S. holiday, Halloween is a fall tradition that many Americans look forward to with great anticipation. But most people would also agree that it’s a rather strange family holiday!
For people newly arrived in the U.S., the weeks leading up to Halloween can cause some confusion. What are all these scary displays at my local stores? What is going to happen on Halloween night? Should I participate? And if I do, how much time will it take and how expensive will it be?
First of all, the decision whether or not to participate in Halloween traditions is a personal choice. It’s perfectly acceptable not to participate, and to simply turn off your porch light on October 31. Many people do.
At the same time, Halloween can also be an opportunity to connect with neighbors and experience a unique side of life in the U.S. Should you choose to give Halloween a try, there are some simple ways to participate that won’t cost you a lot of time or money—and might be a lot of fun!
Whether you opt to celebrate Halloween or not, having a little prior knowledge can help you feel prepared for the sights and sounds of this spooky season. Read on to gain some tips for your first Halloween in the U.S.:
What to Expect #1: Unusual Schedules
One of the surprising things about Halloween in America is that it doesn’t follow a consistent or convenient schedule.
Halloween is always observed on October 31, which means the day of the week changes each year. When Halloween falls on a weekend, the schedule is much more relaxed. However, the holiday often takes place midweek, and because Halloween is not an official holiday, most businesses, schools, and government offices will be following their normal routine for the day.
This means that the evening can be a crazy rush of people heading home from work combined with young families trying to complete their trick-or-treating before dark. All this activity in the evening hours certainly impacts dinner schedules as well. (Some people have talked of passing a law to move Halloween so it’s always on a Saturday; we’ll see what happens in the future.)
In 2023, Halloween falls on a Tuesday, so families will need to be ready for some advance planning. Also, if you’re driving home from work on Halloween night, be sure to stay alert for crowds of young people moving through the neighborhood!
What to Expect #2: Holiday Spending
Entering your local store in mid-September and seeing a line of skeletons, witches, and ghosts on display can come as quite a shock! What is going on here?
Apart from the traditions and the social gatherings associated with the holiday, Halloween in America is also big business. According to the National Retail Federation, in the year 2021, Americans spent over $10 billion on just this one holiday, with the average U.S. household spending around $100. Included in this figure are candy, costumes, decorations, and Halloween-themed greeting cards.
At your local department store or big-box retailer, Halloween decorations and costumes are available to buy as early as the end of summer. This is a relatively new trend: 20 or 30 years ago, low-cost or homemade Halloween decorations were the norm. Even today, some people prefer to bypass the stores, instead featuring kids’ art projects and home-crafted costumes as a back-to-basics way to celebrate Halloween.
Whether you plan to join in this holiday spending spree or not is a personal choice. In the following sections we will break down some major considerations so you can make an informed decision. Overall, families with children typically spend around $150 per family, while families with no kids average around $75 (National Retail Federation).
What to Expect #3: Lots of Candy
For all the emphasis on scary movies and spooky decorations, the true celebration of Halloween in America starts and ends with candy. On Halloween night, costume-wearing kids travel from door to door, saying “Trick or Treat” and holding out goodie bags expectantly. In 2022, 70% of Americans said they planned to hand out candy for Halloween.
For your first Halloween in the U.S., this is a major decision point: having candy available for trick-or-treaters is the ‘entry level’ participation option in Halloween traditions. Without it, some of the more advanced decorating activities won’t make much sense; an elaborately decorated home without candy inside will lead to a lot of disappointed young people knocking on your door.
Although some people offer healthier ‘alternative’ treats (though homemade items are discouraged because of safety considerations), candy is still the standard, with 90% of consumers opting for chocolate candies. Many retailers offer bags of small-sized popular candies specifically for Halloween. Depending on the number of kids in your area, the expense of candy can range from around $15 to well over $50. According to one estimate, in 2022, the average family spent around $30 on Halloween candy.
Depending on the popularity of your neighborhood, it’s also possible to buy a bag or two (or three, or four) of candy and then make the uncomfortable discovery that the number of trick-or-treaters is larger than your candy supply. Don’t worry, this is a common occurrence! If and when your candy supply runs out, it’s perfectly acceptable to simply switch off your porch lights to let visitors know you’re ‘done for the night.’ Young trick-or-treaters will simply move on to the next home once it’s clear you are no longer participating.
What to Expect #4: Halloween Decorations
According to a recent survey, about 52% of people in the U.S. decorate their homes for Halloween—in other words, a little over half of the homes in most neighborhoods. Halloween decorations range from simple pumpkins to elaborate displays that make everyone stop and look. Decorating styles vary as well: some are little-kid cute, some go for humor, and some try to scare the pants off of you.
Choosing whether to decorate for Halloween is a personal decision. It’s perfectly acceptable not to decorate, in which case you may not see many trick-or-treaters as they might assume that you are not celebrating the holiday.
For people desiring Halloween decorations that don’t take a lot of time, most large retailers will have a dedicated section with plenty of ready-made options. Even if you don’t plan to give out candy on Halloween night, a simple fall wreath or plastic pumpkin might be a nice addition to the neighborhood decor. If you see a decoration you like at your local store, it’s a good idea to buy it right away, as it may not be available later.
A fun family project to consider is carving your own Jack-o’-Lantern. Your local store will have a selection of pumpkins, ranging in price from $5 to $15. You may also have u-pick pumpkin farms in your area; they will be quite a bit more expensive, but a trip to the pumpkin farm can be a memorable activity for the whole family. Carving a pumpkin together is also quite a family experience—be prepared for a big mess (putting down paper before you start is a must), and be sure to keep an eye on young kids around any sharp tools. Also, it’s a good safety tip to use a battery-operated candle inside your pumpkin, rather than a traditional flame candle.
For people who wish to go all in on Halloween decorations, you’ll find every manner of do-it-yourself products at your local big-box retailer, including those scary plastic skeletons, spooky lights, fog machines, and stretchy spiderweb. Oh, and if you do decide to put up stretchy spiderweb, please take the time to learn how to make it look good!
What to Expect #5: Halloween Costumes
Beyond the candy and the decorations, Halloween in America wouldn’t be what it is without masses of people dressed in crazy costumes. The majority of costume wearers are young people, with the percentages dropping off after around 15 or 16 years old. However, many adults enjoy dressing up for Halloween as well. In 2022, 47% of people who celebrate Halloween said they planned to dress up in costume.
The tradition of wearing costumes at this time of year goes back over 2,000 years to the Celts of ancient Britain. Samhain was their holiday to mark the end of summer, and the Celts believed that on this day the spirits of the dead returned to walk the earth. Nowadays, costumes can be almost anything imaginable, from superheroes, to animals, to frightening unique creations. In 2022, the top 3 costume picks were Spiderman, Princess, and Witch.
Store-bought Halloween costumes range anywhere between $20 and $75. The quality generally won’t be great, as these are mostly one-time-use items. Still, there are a lot of fun and clever options available, though families can also consider creating their own costumes from items around the house.
Of course, having a costume also means having a place to wear it! Some people may opt for simply dressing up in costume to answer the front door for trick-or-treaters; this can be a fun way to upgrade your celebration. Others plan to go out trick or treating themselves, which certainly requires some kind of costume.
A third popular option is going to a neighborhood Halloween party, which may be held on or before the actual holiday (though usually not after). You can also check online to see if there are any events planned to celebrate Halloween in your community, as a variety of organizations will hold gatherings that are open to the public.
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However you choose to celebrate Halloween in America, or even if you don’t wish to participate at all, I hope you are now feeling more prepared. Stay safe, and Happy Halloween!
Thanks for reading these tips for celebrating your first Halloween in the U.S.
If a young person in your family is interested in learning more about Halloween, they will enjoy Weird But True Halloween: 300 Spooky Facts to Scare You Silly by Julie Beer (available on Amazon)
And for more on everyone’s favorite Halloween decoration, the Jack-o’-Lantern, here’s a great resource: Jack-O’-Lantern: The Strange History of the Halloween Pumpkin from Ancient Times to the Present by David Acord (available on Amazon)
Have a comment or a question about Halloween in America? Share it below!
Also, be sure to take a look at these 4 fun American Thanksgiving Traditions
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