7 Things I Didn’t Know About Halloween Until I Moved to the United States

published Oct 27, 2021
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Growing up in Turkey, the closest I ever got to celebrating Halloween was at my international preschool. I dressed up as a ghost thanks to a sheet with two cut-out eyeholes, ate a lot of candy, and was taught how to make shadow puppets. Beyond that, my understanding of Halloween was shaped by television shows and movies (and primarily the “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” scene with floating pumpkins in the Great Hall). In the following years, my friends and I threw parties attempting to encapsulate our idea of Halloween, which meant half of us would attempt DIYing a costume while the other half deemed themselves “too cool” to dress up. 

It wasn’t until I came to New York City for college that I grasped everything that Halloween could be — and that it was so much more than a one-time event where you get dressed up, walk around, and eat candy. With the encouragement of my friends, I spent my first stateside Halloween at New York City’s famous Village Halloween parade. The streets were an explosion of color; and people and pets dressed up in elaborate costumes and scary make-up, and carried whole structures with their costumes. The whole city became one spooky photoshoot. As I approach my fifth Halloween in the United States, here are seven things I have learned about the tradition: 

Halloween is more than one day.

Halloween is not limited to Oct. 31. “Spooky season” begins weeks and sometimes even months early with stores rolling out Halloween-themed… well, everything. There are dog parades, cemetery tours, colorful donuts, Halloween-themed club nights, bar trivia, and scary movie nights.

Planning ahead will save you a ton of headaches.

As soon as the first leaf falls and the foliage changes, the spirit of Halloween seeps in. Planning ahead not only means getting tickets for the events you want to attend but also planning one or more costumes and the itinerary for any days you want to celebrate. Between getting a good view of a parade, attending house parties, and making sure little ones have their fill of trick-or-treating, there’s plenty to prepare for in advance. 

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Craft Stylist: Brigitt Earley

Plenty of towns do up Halloween differently.

If you think you get really into Halloween, you probably haven’t yet seen what some cities across the country are capable of. Anoka, Minnesota, is known as the “Halloween capital of the world,” with a huge parade on Main Street, while one of the largest Halloween parties in Hawaii happens in Lahaina, on the island of Maui. As for towns with historical significance, Salem, Massachusetts, goes all-out with fireworks, haunted house attractions, and film screenings; while Sleepy Hollow, New York, also hosts a variety of family-friendly events. Theme parks like Disneyland, Disney World, and Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, transform themselves with festive backdrops, shows, and rides; Knott’s even turns itself into Knott’s Scary Farm, complete with haunted houses and creatures and characters walking around the park. Lastly, you can never go wrong with visiting a pumpkin patch to get your dose of nature, pumpkin-flavored foods, and fall foliage. 

Can’t pick between costumes? Wear more than one!

Can’t decide between which costume to wear this year? Why not attend multiple events and get some mileage out of one or more DIY looks? Whether you opt for a punny or scary costume, or one informed by pop culture from this year or years past, there are plenty of ways to get creative. Check out Apartment Therapy’s roundup of DIY costumes inspired by beloved TV shows to get started, or browse our roundup of couple’s and group costume ideas if you’re attending a party as a pair.

Trick-or-Treating is NOT for all ages. 

When I first moved to the U.S., I was really hoping I could participate in trick-or-treating. (When else is it okay to ask neighbors for candy?!) I quickly realized this tradition is exclusive to children, and that the only adults typically allowed in this festivity are those who are chaperoning the kids.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

… But you can still nab treats as an adult.

That said, there are still some ways to get into the trick-or-treating spirit as an adult — and wearing a costume is often the key. While many food chains and convenience stores have Halloween-themed deals and special flavors, others ask that you show up in your costume for a bonus. Krispy Kreme gives a free donut to anyone who walks in with a costume on Oct. 31, while Chipotle is offering a buy-one-get-one-free deal redeemable for online orders placed on Halloween, without the requirement of showing up to locations in costume. (And if you really need a candy fix, you can always stock up on a big bag of treats for yourself and your own household — no one’s stopping you!)

All things considered, there is no pressure.

While all the festivities can be overwhelming, and you might feel pressured to have the “best” costume on your Instagram feed, it’s just as okay to opt out. And while you might feel like you’re phoning it in with a cat-ear headband, costumes do not have to be a big deal. You can choose to wear a Halloween-themed sweater, black and orange accessories, or no costume at all. In short, you can make things as Halloween-y as you want — and if you want to fast forward toward the winter holidays as soon as you can, that’s totally okay, too.