Happy Halloween! Yes, this is a holiday dedicated to all things spooky and scary… but also to all things sweet! Halloween is quickly making its way around the world, so chances are you’ve experienced the costumes, trick-or-treating, and other Halloween traditions that are popular in the U.S. Let’s explore some of these traditions—and how they’ve evolved!

Two children, one dressed as a vampire and the other as a witch, hold pumpkin-shaped buckets full of candy

Trick or treating is mostly about the treats

One of the most popular Halloween traditions in the U.S. is “trick-or-treating”. This is when children dress up in costumes and go door to door asking for candy, but to do it they say a special phrase: “Trick or treat!”

Some think that trick or treating might have evolved from a variety of old traditions, including from a Celtic festival called Samhain, which was celebrated in present-day Britain and Ireland. During this festival, people would leave food out for the spirits they believed would walk the earth that time of year. The phrase “trick or treat” itself, however, is a bit newer!

In the 19th and early 20th centuries in the U.S. and Canada, people started pranking or playing “tricks” on people around Halloween. Coupled with giving out candy on Halloween (perhaps partially to stop children from playing tricks), the phrase “trick or treat” started to take form.

Nowadays, the “trick” part of “trick or treating” is much less common. Usually when children say “trick or treat,” they just get a treat, and probably won’t play a prank on their neighbor.

But in some places across the U.S., like Des Moines, Idaho, children follow up “trick or treat” with a silly joke in order to get their candy.  While it isn’t a prank, these harmless jokes put the “trick” back in “trick or treat” or, in this case… “trick and treat!”

Lots of people will decorate for Halloween… with pumpkins!

As soon as October hits in the U.S., you’ll start to see people decorating their houses with all sorts of spooky decorations, like big fake spiderwebs, bats, and skeletons. But the most popular decoration of them all? Round, orange pumpkins! In October, these types of pumpkins are everywhere, from people’s front yards, to patterns on clothing, to cupcake decorations. Not to mention that the bright orange color is one of the essential hues of Halloween!

In the days leading up to October 31st, many people will carve faces, or other designs, into fresh, hollowed out pumpkins, which they’ll then put in front of their house with a small candle inside. The final product is called a “jack-o’-lantern”! Whether you use a real candle or an electric one inside, the light shines through the design and looks really spooky at night!

This tradition of carving a vegetable into a spooky lantern has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain as well, but instead of pumpkins, they used turnips. Nowadays, you’ll only see jack-o’-lanterns in their pumpkin form, and pumpkin carving has become a popular Halloween tradition. Some people buy their pumpkins at the store and others will spend the day picking them from a farm themselves! It’s most common to carve a scary face with triangle eyes, but you might also find silly faces or faces of popular characters. Designs can be very simple, but some are incredibly detailed. There are even carving competitions for the real pumpkin professionals!

Halloween costumes can be scary… but also funny!

Whether you’re trick or treating or going to a Halloween party, one big question is on everyone’s minds:  What am I going to be for Halloween?

When you think of Halloween costumes, the first thing that likely comes to mind are spooky characters: ghosts, zombies, vampires, and witches, perhaps. Scary costumes are traditional to wear for Halloween, and also have their roots in the Celtic precursor to Halloween:  the festival of Samhain. Because it was believed that spirits would walk the earth during this festival, people would dress in spooky costumes to chase away evil spirits.

Over the centuries, spooky Halloween costumes are still the default for many, but many others choose to take a less traditional approach. Walking around on Halloween night, you might see people dress up as everyday objects (like toilets and ketchup bottles!) or their favorite celebrities and characters (like Dua Lipa or Lily!) or sometimes even people they personally know (like their best friend or even their boss!) Whatever you want to be, there’s probably a Halloween costume out there for you!

Halloween is a frightfully fun holiday!

These are just three ways people choose to celebrate Halloween, but these traditions can differ a lot depending on where you live and how you personally choose to celebrate! Take for instance Garett Reppenhagen, who works for the US military. He loves Halloween so much one year he decided to dress up as his boss… his commanding chief in the military! Or Swany, a woman from Des Moines who's Halloween decorating took on a whole new meaning when a stranger ran away with her pumpkin!

If you want to hear more about Garett and Swany and how they celebrate Halloween traditions while practicing your English, listen in to our Halloween episode on our English podcast: Relatos en inglés!