Halloween in the USA

In the United States, the first recorded instance of a Halloween celebration occurred in Anoka, Minn., in 1921

Halloween did not become a holiday in America until the 19th century, where lingering Puritan tradition meant even Christmas was scarcely observed before the 1800s. North American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries make no mention of Halloween in their lists of holidays.

The transatlantic migration of nearly two million Irish following the Irish Potato Famine (1845–1849) brought the holiday and its customs to America. Scottish emigration from the British Isles, primarily to Canada before 1870 and to the United States thereafter, brought that country’s own version of the holiday to North America.

When the holiday was observed in 19th-century America, it was generally in three ways. Scottish-American and Irish-American societies held dinners and balls that celebrated their heritages, with perhaps a recitation of Robert Burns’ poem “Hallowe’en” or a telling of Irish legends, much as Columbus Day celebrations were more about Italian-American heritage than Columbus. Home parties would center around children’s activities, such as bobbing for apples and various divination games, particularly about future romance. And finally, pranks and mischief were common on Halloween.

Commercial exploitation of Halloween in America did not begin until the 20th century. The earliest were perhaps Halloween postcards, which were most popular between 1905 and 1915, and featured hundreds of different designs. Dennison Manufacturing Company, which published its first Halloween catalog in 1909, and the Beistle Company were pioneers in commercially made Halloween decorations, particularly die-cut paper items. German manufacturers specialized in Halloween figurines that were exported to America in the period between the two world wars.

There is little primary documentation of masking or costuming on Halloween in America, or elsewhere, before 1900. Mass-produced Halloween costumes did not appear in stores until the 1950s, when trick-or-treating became a fixture of the holiday, although commercially made masks were available earlier.

In the United States, Halloween has become one of the most profitable holidays, next to Christmas, for retailers. In the 1990s many manufactures began producing a larger variety of Halloween yard decorations; prior to this a majority of decorations were homemade.

Some of the most popular yard decorations are jack-o’-lanterns, scarecrows, witches, orange and purple string lights, inflatable decorations such as spiders, pumpkins, mummies, vampires and Frankensteins, and animatronic window and door decorations.

Other popular decoration are foam tombstones and gargoyles.

Some cities like Anoka, Minnesota and The Village Halloween Parade draws tens of thousands of people.

In many towns and cities, trick-or-treaters are welcomed by lighted porch lights. In some large or crime-ridden cities, however, trick-or-treating is discouraged, forbidden, or restricted to staged trick-or-treating events within one or more of the cities’ shopping malls, in order to prevent potential acts of violence against trick-or-treaters.

Those living in the country may hold Halloween parties. These parties usually involve games (often traditional games like bobbing for apples, searching for candy in a similar manner to Easter egg hunting, or a snipe hunt), a hayrack ride (often accompanied by a scary story and one or more masked and costumed people hiding in the dark to jump out and scare the riders), and treats (usually a bag of candy and/or homemade treats).

Scary movies may also be watched. Normally, the children are picked up by their parents at pre-determined times. However, it is not uncommon for these parties to include sleepovers.

Best cities for Halloween celebrations

From small towns to big cities, some of the best Halloween celebrations across the United States include: 

  • Anoka, Minnesota –  This small midwestern city may not be well known internationally, but it is famous within the United States as the ‘Halloween Capital of the World’. Anoka was given this title after hosting one of the first public Halloween celebrations in the country, in 1920, in an effort to discourage tricksters by distracting them with a party instead. This tradition has carried on into the 21st century with a huge parade taking place along Main Street every October. 
  • San Antonio, Texas – As is appropriate due to its close proximity to the Mexican border, this Texan city offers a large annual celebration dedicated to Dia de los Muertos, the Latin American equivalent of Halloween. The Day of the Dead festival in San Antonio allows visitors to enjoy all of the colourful trappings of this festival, including traditional arts and crafts and a range of Latin musical and dance performances.
  • Laconia, New Hampshire – NH Pumpkin Festival is one of the most famous Halloween events in the USA. Happening in the awesome small town called Laconia, New Hemisphere, the festival offers you tons of entertaining things to do. 
  • Lahaina, Hawaii – Known as the “Mardi Gras of the Pacific”, the Hawaiian Halloween celebration in Lahaina sess the city’s Front Street closed to traffic for a huge costume parade which begins at sunset and is considered to be very family-friendly. A number of fun Halloween-themed events also take place in Honolulu, including a Haunted Village attraction and a Music and Arts Festival in the city’s Art District. 
  • Los Angeles, California – If visiting the City of Angels during October, there’s only one place to be on the 31st, the West Hollywood Carnaval. One of the biggest Halloween parties in the world, this annual parade sees a huge number of costumed visitors taking part in a large parade that ends with the crowning of the Carnaval Queen.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana – The Crew of Boo is one of the best Halloween events happening in New Orleans, Louisiana. It contains many unique events like a Zombie run, an evening Halloween Parade with freaky costumes, and food events. 
  • Manhattan, New York – The Greenwich Village procession is the only art-based Halloween parade in the country, and has been going strong for almost 50 years. It is best known for the multitude of giant puppets,  which participants can also volunteer to operate during the celebration. An Annual Kids Halloween Parade also takes place in nearby Washington Square Park on October 31st. 
  • St. Helens, Oregon – St. Helens is a famous small town located 30 miles north of Portland where is held yearly The Spirit of Halloween town Festival. It is also the location of Disney Channel’s original movie “Halloweentown” and Bella’s House’s in the Twilight movie series.
  • Salem, Massachusetts – Chinese travelers in the USA may be especially interested to experience Halloween in a city known worldwide for its macabre colonial past. Famous for the witch trials which took place during the 17th century, Salem continues to celebrate its spooky heritage with a program of annual events. These include a Grand Parade, an enormous fireworks display, haunted house attractions, and film screenings of holiday classics such as Hocus Pocus
  • Sleepy Hollow, New York State – Sleepy Hollow is another US city widely associated with spooky goings-on because of the legend of the headless horseman, made famous by the Disney cartoon and the Tim Burton film with Johnny Depp.  And, like Salem, the town embraces its eery legacy every year on Halloween with a range of unique activities, many of which are family-friendly. One especially fun event is the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze, which involves over 7,000 hand-carved pumpkins.
  • Louisville, Kentucky – This Halloween party in Louisville is perfect if traveling to America with children. The zoo is converted into a real-life storybook with costumed characters and trick-or-treating. Tourists can enjoy the event Thursday to Sunday throughout October.

A number of large family-friendly Halloween-themed events are also celebrated in the major theme parks across the country, including at Disneyland in California, Disneyworld in Orlando, and Legoland Florida.

Our favorite, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party happens in the Disney Magic Kingdom Park in Florida. They decorate the park with pumpkins and other haunted decorations.