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Booo! It’s spooky season in the US!

Updated: Nov 2, 2020

If you’ve never lived in the US, but grew up reading Stephen King and watching movies like Fright Night, Beetlejuice, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Michael Myer’s Halloween, I am sure you’ve dreamed of experiencing a true American Halloween, at least once.

With the exception of the 4th of July and Thanksgiving (and Black Friday), there is hardly any celebration more typically American. If you think Halloween is only about October 31st, think again. You can find related activities through the entire month of October. Come and get spooked!

Haunted (or not) activities throughout October

Pumpkin Patch

How about harvesting your own pumpkin for baking a pumpkin pie or for carving your own Jack O’Lantern? If you are in the US and have a car, you should be able to find a pumpkin patch near you. You will enjoy fresh air and fall landscapes and will pick your own pumpkins. Go early in the season to have plenty of choices.

Corn Maze

Getting lost in a corn field might be more fun than you think, especially with kids and friends in tow. Most corn mazes boast scavenger hunts and little surprises along the way. Keep little kids close, corn mazes can be really large. If you dare, check out a haunted corn maze in the evenings (youngsters and adults only).

Halloween farms

Several farms focus on Halloween with a host of special activities that go far beyond pumpkin patches and corn mazes. Try to find a farm close to you that offers more. There are usually kid-friendly activities during the day and the spookier attractions happen at night, for the older crowd.

For children, going to one of these farms is quite the experience. Attractions and activities vary from one farm to another but you can find smaller mazes, that little ones can explore by themselves, hay-bale or tractor-tire obstacle courses, workshops on things like pumpkin carving or face painting, petting zoos, hayrides and more. Larger farms may have pretty elaborate playgrounds, plenty of rides, structure for events or game stands.

For the older enthusiasts, visit the farm at night: you will get a spookier version of everything, plus music concerts, bars and partying, along with scary attractions. Some offer unusual opportunities like channeling your inner Rick Grimes and blasting zombies with a paintball gun.

Also, be sure to check out the typical fall harvest treats available. Most places have a farm store where you can buy local produce and things like jam, jelly, cakes, cookies and pies. Many also have special restaurants set up, and, if you are lucky, you might get to enjoy a nice brisket or barbecue.

Parties and parades

Closer to the end of the month, you might also discover several parties and even parades. Be creative with your costume and you might even get a prize! If you have a little one in tow, be sure to find a party for children. Also check if the city you are at holds a Halloween parade.

On the 31st, several cities hold special trick or treating events, on the main street or in shopping malls. Don’t get shy and put your costume on! Even adults show up in full garb and kids get to trick or treat in local stores. There are often special activities such as costume contests, music concerts and more.

Neighborhood décor

Something I always loved doing is checking out the decorations people put out for Halloween. Any suburb will do, but you can try to find out if there is any neighborhood or anyone that really goes all out (and some people really do!). Go in the evening, to take advantage of the light effects.

Trick or Treating

The core of American Halloween, and what children love the best, is trick or treating. On the 31st, as soon as the sun starts to go down, the little ghosts, ghouls and superheroes start knocking on doors on the quest for the best candy! If this is your first Halloween in the US with kids, make sure to get them a bucket or larger bag (yes, they will get a LOT of candy). Lighted porches or lights on the windows right next to the front door indicate the homes participating in trick or treating.

Some cities to visit for Halloween

Salem, Massachusetts

If you want to schedule a trip to experience Halloween, Salem is a great option. You certainly must have read about or seen a movie on the famous witch hunt that happened in the area (actually in the town that is today called Danvers) and that sentenced several people to death on counts of witchcraft. Despite the grim and brutal history, Halloween in Salem is a fun affair: during the entire month of October, the city is transformed with several tourists flocking in to enjoy the Halloween attractions that range from festivals, haunted tours and more.

Estes Park, Colorado

If you’re a fan of Stephen King or have enjoyed getting scared to death in “The Shining”, whether the book or one of the many movie adaptations (check the classic 1980 version with Jack Nicholson, if you haven’t), you might be interested in participating in a Halloween party hosted by the hotel that inspired King to write the novel. The “Shining Ball”, at the Stanley Hotel, is for adults only and costumes are required. You can also enjoy Halloween festivities on the 31st in town: Estes Park, where the Stanley is located, holds trick or treating on Elkhorn Avenue. From 5 to 9pm, the street is closed off to traffic, and children go trick or treating on the shops.

Halloween’s origins date to a long time ago

If you’re not American, chances are you get annoyed by the fact that American Halloween has become increasingly popular and you may think people should focus on celebrating their own culture. Please understand that American Halloween is a cultural manifestation like the Brazilian Carnival or any other popular festivity and the way Halloween is celebrated abroad is not really like experiencing a typical American Halloween. Thus, if you get a chance to be in the US for Halloween, leave your prejudice behind and enjoy it! If you have kids in tow, that is no longer a suggestion, it’s a must!

Celtic origins

Halloween’s origins date far back, to old celtic celebrations. The celts lived in the region that today comprises the UK, Ireland and the North of France. Samhain was the festival that celebrated the harvest and the new year, and was celebrated on the interstice between the equinox and the Winter solstice. The celts believed that, in the evening before Samhain, the barrier between the world of the living and that of the dead would come down, and the spirits of the dead would be able to cross over. With the rise of Christianity, Christian holidays were assigned to pagan celebrations and November 1st became All Saint’s Day (All Hallows Day) and October 31st, All Hallow’s Eve, which would later become Halloween.

In the US, although celebrations of harvest and autumn were common, the influx of European immigrants, especially the Irish, helped popularize Halloween. In the end of the 19th century, there was an effort to remove any religious or superstitious tones from the celebration and center it around community values. Between 1920 and 1950, trick or treating became the easy and simple way to celebrate Halloween and neighborly spirit.

Jack O’Lantern

The pumpkin is the symbol of American Halloween, especially when carved and lighted, as a Jack O’Lantern. The tradition began in Europe far before Halloween started being celebrated in America. According to Irish lore, Stingy Jack was a thief that managed to trick and imprison the devil. In order to be freed, the Devil promises not to take Jack’s soul to Hell. When Jack died, he was denied Heaven on account of his deeds and, fulfilling his promise, the Devil wouldn’t let his soul into Hell either. Jack’s soul was then doomed to wander the Earth, looking for a resting place. In order to light the way, Jack would carry a carved turnip with a candle inside. In the US, the tradition of carving vegetables for lamps focused on the readily available and abundant pumpkins and was soon incorporated into the harvest and All Hallows Eve celebrations.


Since people believed that the spirits of the dead would be free to roam the world, in order not to be harassed by the dead, they would wear masks resembling ghosts and ghouls, so that the spirits would be tricked into believing they were also dead. And that’s how wearing costumes in Halloween came to be a thing.

How about enjoying Halloween, wherever?

Travelling is not advisable nowadays and neither are parties. But you can still enjoy Halloween, even if you are not in the US.

Carve your Jack O’ Lantern

If you’ve never carved a pumpkin, steer clear of those cheap store-bought carving kits. Just grab a sharp serrated knife, a felt-tip pen, a big spoon and a bowl and you’re good to go. Sketch your carving on the pumpkin with the pen (if you’re new to this, try a simple face with only straight lines). Use the knife to cut off the top of the pumpkin, angling the knife diagonally so that you can turn the top part into a lid that won’t fall into the carved pumpkin. Use a large spoon to remove all the seeds. Carve according to your design and add a candle or LED lights (there are some cool ones with lots of different lighting effects). Voilá! Your Jack O’Lantern is done!

Decorate the home

Get the kids together and create your own Halloween décor. Draw and cut bats or Jack O’Lanterns out of paper or cardboard, use black balloons and party streamers to create spiders… Your imagination is the limit! (If you need inspiration, Pinterest is always there.) If you have glass windows, a cool and easy way to decorate is to cut out silhouettes in black paper and stick them on the windows: once you turn on the lights at night, they will look really good.

Organize a Trunk or Treat

This year, Halloween parties won’t happen, and even trick or treating should be impacted. You can organize a Trunk or Treat, decorating the trunk of your car instead of your home and getting together with closer friends and family in an outdoor location. Make sure to include a cool face mask that matches your costume and forgo the handing out of candy altogether, leaving the bucket of candy easily available for kids to serve themselves. Pack lots of hand sanitizer along with your Halloween candy and have fun!

For getting into the spooky mood

In print

If you’ve never read Stephen King, it’s time you started. A few suggestions:

This Kindle edition includes The Shining, Salem’s Lot and Carrie, 3 Stephen King classics

The Stand, Stephen King

Pet Sematary, Stephen King

The classics that never lose its shine:

Dracula, Bram Stoker

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving

Complete Tales and Poems, Edgar Allan Poe

On screen

Friday, the 13th

Fright Night

Nightmare on Elm Street

The Shining

Bram Stoker’s Dracula


Dracula, Netflix

Pet Sematary


To watch with the little ones

Tim Burton’s classic, Nightmare Before Christmas is a must, but don’t forget to check:


The Corpse Bride

Edward Scissorhands

And also check

The Addams Family (there are several versions, but I recommend the 1991 classic with Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston)

Hotel Transylvania



Shopping tips

Face masks for Halloween (or day-to-day, depending on how adventurous you are):



Photos: personal archive, Unsplash and Wikimedia Commons.

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