Cthulhu pumpkin carving

Everything you need to know to have the full Halloween experience in America

Despite Halloween’s huge presence in countries across the world, it’s not quite a global holiday. Since today’s Halloween is a product of medieval European traditions, most countries that celebrate it share cultural similarities with Europe. Still, nobody does Halloween quite like the U.S. In this article, we’ll teach you exactly what to do to have the best Halloween ever!

1. Experience these classic Halloween traditions

Depending on where you are in the States, Halloween can look a little different from place to place. Some traditions, though, have a nationwide presence.

Haunted Houses

Dent Schoolhouse, A Top-Ranked Haunted House in Ohio

Some of the most popular venues for haunted houses are places that have a prior history of paranormal activity. For example, the Dent Schoolhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio takes place at an actual abandoned school where, according to legend, children began to mysteriously disappear from their classrooms, never to be seen again. Another famous location, Asylum 49 in Utah, takes place in an abandoned hospital. To enter, you must agree that the inhabitants are permitted to detain you against your will, strap you to operating tables, abandon you, touch you, and grab you, should they feel like it.

Others stake their reputation on providing shocking services. Hundred Acres Manor, for example, will lock you in a room with no instructions on how to get out, straight up bury you alive, and throw you in a maze full of monsters who will chase you around with chainsaws.

Doesn’t exactly sound like fun to me, personally, but some of these venues pull in up to 20,000 visitors per weekend.


Shot from Voodoo Music + Arts Festival, New Orleans, Louisiana

Halloween, like the United States itself, originates from cultures in Britain and Ireland. As a result, many of the legends that persist in American culture about Halloween carry echoes of English and Irish folklore. Towns hold festivals to honor these legends and give visitors a chance to take a step back into history.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow tells of a headless horseman who carried a pumpkin under his arm. He’d carved a face into the pumpkin so that he could place it on top of his neck when he needed to speak. Today, you can visit Sleepy Hollow, which still stands in its original location in upstate New York.

The Northeast also hosts America’s most infamous encounter with their fear of the supernatural, this one verified historically. The Salem Witch trials, in Salem, Massachusetts, saw 19 people hung for being witches during the early colonial era of late 17th-century America. Now, the town of Salem hosts festivals, spooky markets, and haunted parades throughout October.

In addition, there are music festivals all over. Non-traditional Halloween celebrations like the Voodoo Music + Arts experience in New Orleans regularly bring in huge names on their lineups. Among this year’s headliners are Guns N’ Roses, Brandi Carlile, Beck, and Post Malone.

That sounds great, but what’s happening near me?

This article could be 10,000 words long and it would still barely scratch the surface of everything people do to celebrate Halloween. In Louisiana, it’s like Carnivale meets Dio De Los Muertos. In Arizona, they blow up hot air balloons that shine colorful and bright against the dark desert night. Georgia keeps it traditional, and Florida adds a pinch of Disney magic.

To find out what’s happening near you, click here.

2. Put together an outstanding costume.

Don’t be afraid to get creative.

A lot of people go for wordplay with their costumes. If you’re looking for inspiration, check out some of these photos we found online:

Greenhouse – Literally
The Spice Girls
50 Shades of Grey

For more inspiration, there’s no better place to look than Pinterest.

But why do people dress up?

In the days before Halloween, the Gaelic and Celtic peoples of Ireland, Mann, Wales, and Scotland celebrated folk festivals around the end of October. As these societies grew increasingly Christian, these folk traditions began to merge with Christian culture.

The Christian holiday Allhallowtide, which coincided somewhat with the Celtic festivals of Samhain and Calan Gaeaf, led to a cross-cultural exchange that created the early stages of trick-or-treating.

For those unfamiliar, trick-or-treating is when children wear costumes and go door-to-door asking for candy. They say “Trick or Treat!” to greet their host, meaning “Give us candy, or else we’ll vandalize your house.”

Long before the modern era, though, children would go “souling” instead of trick-or-treating. The name comes from “soul cakes,” a dessert traditionally offered to the poor by affluent families on Allhallowtide as they came knocking.

The costumes, then, served a dual purpose. From the Christian tradition, costumes allowed for anonymity, thus eliminating the risk of public shame for begging.

From the Celtic tradition, we get the deathly, Gothic imagery of skeletons, zombies, vampires, and other creatures.

3. Decorate your home.

Create Gorgeous Jack-O-Lanterns That Glow in the Dark

Jack-O-Lanterns are hollowed-out pumpkins with faces, characters, or other artwork carved into them. At night, place a candle inside to illuminate the interior and show off the design!

Here’s some of our favorites from this year. And if you’re looking for a great guide on how to make a jack-o-lantern (it’s messier than you may think), take a look here!

Laugh at Death

The best Halloween decorations put a humorous twist on the morbid side of Halloween. This famous mansion in New Orleans is known for its skeleton displays each year, which makes clever puns while spreading the Halloween spirit.

The trend is so popular, it’s inspired others too.

4. Try Some Traditional Candy

Candy Apples

These delicious treats appear at Fall Festivals throughout Western cultures, but in the U.S. they’re most popular around Halloween.

Chefs prepare them by coating whole apples in red caramel, often flavored with cinnamon, cherry, or even nutmeg. Then, before the coating dries, they’ll dip them in toppings. Chopped peanuts are especially popular.

Peanut Butter Kisses

Loved by many, despised by others, these iconic orange-and-black taffies pop up every year around Halloween in the U.S. A peanut-butter pocket wrapped in soft, chewy molasses candy makes these treats irresistible for all who love that sweet/savory blend.

Candy Corn

Candy corn has become such a symbol of Halloween, you’ll see these sugary kernels nearly everywhere you go. Their popularity is due in part to their fall colors, plus they’re very easy to make. A little syrup, sugar, and confectioner’s glaze is all it takes.

Wrapping Up

Halloween is a chance for people of all ages to embrace everything weird and out of the ordinary, so it’s definitely a night you don’t want to miss. Also, let us know in the comments if this guide was helpful for you! As always, we’re here to help you make the most out of your time in the United States.

If this guide has got you thinking about an internship of your own in America, let us help you make it happen! All it takes is a quick application to connect with our J-1 Visa experts.* Start planning your year in America today!

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