Celebrating Halloween in the UK

by Nicole Clendinning

The fall is a busy time in the UK. Although Thanksgiving celebrations have not made their way across the pond, there are many other celebratory occasions taking place from October to January. As most universities start the school year at the end of September, it is normal for these weeks to be filled with beginning of the year events referred to as ‘Freshers’, which is the UK equivalent to ‘Frosh’ events. Once these events subside, it will still be a few weeks before Halloween season commences.

Halloween decorations in a grocery store

While in Canada October is often filled with visits to pumpkin patches, apple orchards, or haunted houses it is quite different in London. The Halloween season is celebrated here in a much more commercial sense. Many restaurants and businesses will tune into the spooky season by offering Halloween themed events or products in tune with the season, but what’s  missing is the scary movie marathons and the sense of the Halloween season you get from seeing decorated houses scattered around. You will without a doubt see people dressed in costume headed for a night out, but trick or treaters were much fewer and more far between than I expected. While in Canada you are guaranteed to see costumed children out in droves on October 31st, I saw only a few groups throughout the night. A vast difference from my Halloween experiences in Canada, I also noticed a significant lack of decorations in houses and around the neighborhood. Similar to Canada, they operate on the Jack-O-Lantern rule, where if a house is participating by handing out candy, they will have a carved pumpkin outside the house to communicate this to families, however I noticed a significant lack of festive houses around South London.

But Halloween lovers, don’t fear! There are definitely still opportunities to dress up and celebrate! As I mentioned, the biggest Halloween events here are centered around nightlife and this year I observed people celebrating Halloween by dressing up in costume for almost a full week. As London is such a vibrant city, people will tend to go on a night out any day of the week. This year Halloween fell on a Thursday allowing people to celebrate ‘hallo-weekend’ on the weekend before as well as the weekend following October 31st. As opposed to the popup Halloween shops commonly found in temporary spaces in Canada, Fancy-dress shops sell a variety of costumes all year round. It is common for society events, sports teams and parties to be themed, requiring ‘fancy dress’ which refers to costumes.

Ireland and Scotland have bigger Halloween festivities. The city of Derry in Northern Ireland holds a four-day-long Halloween event called The Banks of the Foyle Carnival which include a parade and haunted houses! It is common in Northern Ireland and Scotland to carve turnips as opposed to Pumpkins! As the origins of Halloween are rooted in Pagan celebrations from Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the tradition of carving pumpkins stems from people’s difficulty in finding turnips after migrating to the Americas.

Interestingly, the UK has another holiday that is more widely celebrated than Halloween. Guy Fawkes Day (or ‘Bonfire Night’) is quite widely celebrated on November 5th and often the weekend before. This holiday commemorates a failed attempt to blow up Parliament buildings in 1605 and it is now celebrated at the beginning of the winter season with massive amounts of fireworks, bonfires and in some areas, parades. Often Guy Fawkes Day lands around one of the first times it starts to get significantly cold, so families and friends bundle up in their winter accessories and bring hot drinks out to watch the firework shows or attend a bonfire outside. This year celebrations shared the first weekend of November with Halloween and resumed on Tuesday the 5th with fireworks through the night.

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