How Different is Halloween in the UK than in the US?

carved pumpkins for halloween

Halloween is a nice evening of trick-or-treating for kids in the UK. In America, Halloween is a big deal… dedicated stores, exaggerated decorations, more elaborate costumes, the lot.

So as a tribute to the spooky season, we’ve compared Halloween in the UK and US and found 16 haunting differences to share with you.

1. Halloween just isn’t as popular in the UK

Halloween is great in Britain, it’s a nice transition into the fall season. There’s trick-or-treating for the youngsters, live-action scare experiences for the adults, outdoor films, and decorations. But it just isn’t as big of a deal as Halloween is in America.

Looking at the monthly Google searches alone, the US searches about it more than 3x what the UK does. There are a few reasons that we’ll discuss why this may be, which will get into shortly.

“Halloween” monthly searches301K1M
Halloween-related phrases634K1.7M
Halloween-related questions28.5K91K
According to SEMRush in October 2023

2. Children go trick-or-treating without their parents in the US

In the UK, trick-or-treating is more popular among younger children. Children typically go trick-or-treating with their parents or friends. They will visit their neighbours’ houses and ask for sweets or money.

In the US, trick-or-treating is popular among children of all ages. Children typically go trick-or-treating without their parents. They will visit all of the houses in their neighborhood and ask for sweets.

3. Costumes are more elaborate in America

Halloween costumes are another popular aspect of the holiday. In the UK, Halloween costumes are typically more traditional, such as zombies, witches, and vampires. Of course, Harley Quinn was and still is a popular choice – but generally the spookier the better.

While in the US, Halloween costumes are often more elaborate and creative. People may dress up as popular culture characters, such as superheroes, movie stars, and video game characters. Think Heidi Klum as the internet famous worm, and Kim Kardashian as Mystique.

Heidi Klum's worm halloween costume

4. You don’t just carve pumpkins in the UK, it’s common to carve turnips and rutabagas

Pumpkin carving, the UK and US is a staple of Halloween. From picking your pumpkin to emptying it and carving a nice face or design, it’s an experience everyone can enjoy.

But in some parts of the UK, namely Scotland and Ireland, other vegetables are carved. It’s common to see carved turnips and rutabagas. This comes from old Irish and Scottish traditions based on will o’ the wisps. 

Turns out when immigrants from these countries went to the US, they looked for turnips to carve. When they couldn’t find any, they adapted to use pumpkins as we all know it today.

5. The UK celebrates Bonfire Night just 5 days after Halloween

One of the reasons Halloween isn’t as big in the UK is because Bonfire Night is celebrated just a few days after. Bonfire Night (or Guy Fawkes) is a British holiday that is celebrated on November 5th.

Long story short, it’s a celebration of the failure of the Gunpowder plot, a plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. On this night you can expect bonfires, fireworks, and toffee apples.

Needless to say, this holiday isn’t celebrated in the States.

6. UK Halloween decorations < US Halloween decorations

Halloween decorations are also a popular part of the holiday. In the UK, Halloween decorations are typically more modest than in the US. People may put up pumpkins, cobwebs, and other traditional Halloween decorations – but nothing extreme. 

In the US, Halloween decorations are often more elaborate and over-the-top. People may decorate their houses with inflatable ghosts and skeletons, spider webs, and other spooky decorations.

halloween decorations

7. Halloween’s roots can be found in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain

Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Samhain was a festival that celebrated the end of the summer and the beginning of the winter. It was also a time when people believed that the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was thin.

Halloween was brought to the US by Irish immigrants in the 19th century. It quickly became a notable holiday in the US and it is now one of the most popular holidays in the country.

8. Guising is a Scottish and Irish tradition similar to trick-or-treating

Guising is a Scottish and Irish tradition that is similar to trick-or-treating. On Guising Night, children dress up in costumes and go door-to-door asking for sweets or money. Guising Night is typically celebrated on October 31st, but it can also be celebrated on other nights leading up to Halloween.

Guising is a fun way for children to celebrate Halloween. In some areas, guisers will perform a song, recite a poem, or tell a joke in exchange for sweets or money. Guising is a great way for children to learn about their cultural heritage and to have some fun on Halloween.

9. You won’t find candy corn in the UK

Halloween treats are synonymous with trick-or-treating. It’s in the name, do you want a sweet treat or a spooky trick? But as you can imagine, the types of treats you get given in the UK is quite different from that of the US.

Most notably, candy corn and pumpkin spice cotton candy are nowhere to be seen in Britain. But there are, of course, sweets and chocolate that you would only find in the UK.

If you’re interested in the differences between British and American food and drink, we’ve compiled the differences between UK and US Fanta for you to check out.

candy corn, a halloween treat in america

10. Northern Ireland has a four-day-long Halloween festival

Derry in Northern Ireland hosts a four-day Halloween festival every year. It’s called the Banks of the Foyle Carnival and it completely transforms the city from the 28th of October to the 31st of October.

The festival features parades, a haunted house, a puppet theatre, and many more Halloween-themed events. It has been known as the “best place” to celebrate Halloween in the world.

11. A night of mischief before the day of Halloween

While there are differences between the way that Brits and Americans celebrate Halloween, there’s one thing they have in common. And it’s the night before, where children, teenagers, and adults partake in petty vandalism, pranks, and partying.

In the UK, this is called Mischief Night but goes under many other names such as Gate Night and Cabbage Night. Whereas in the US this is called Devil’s Night, inspired by Europe’s own night of a similar name.

12. Halloween is more for kids in the UK

Halloween is more of a children’s holiday in the UK. Adults may dress up in costumes and go to Halloween parties, but the holiday is primarily focused on children’s enjoyment.

In the US, Halloween is enjoyed by people of all ages. Adults may dress up in costumes, go to Halloween parties, and even carve pumpkins. Halloween is a much bigger event in the US than it is in the UK.

childrens halloween costumes

13. You’ll struggle to find a corn maze in the UK

Corn mazes are part and parcel of Halloween in America. Getting lost in a field for a few hours? Sounds like a great time.

It may be shocking to find out that there are no corn mazes to be found in the UK. Or at least you’d have a hard time trying to track one down.

14. In the US, Halloween is a month-long event

Halloween in the US is a month-long event. Halloween decorations start appearing in stores in September. Halloween parties are held throughout the month of October. And trick-or-treating takes place on October 31st.

In the UK, Halloween is just not as big of an event. Halloween decorations do not start appearing in stores until October. Halloween parties are typically held on the night of Halloween. The night sort of just comes and goes.

15. The UK doesn’t have a Spirit Halloween

One of the biggest differences is a lack of Halloween-dedicated stores in the UK. They’re the first thing you see in the supermarket during October, but that’s about it really.

While in the US, they have stores whose sole purpose is to provide you with Halloween supplies. The most famous of which is Spirit Halloween, selling everything from costumes to decorations and candy.

spirit halloween in the us

16. No Thanksgiving to look forward to

In America, Thanksgiving shortly follows Halloween on the fourth Thursday of November. In the UK, Halloween is the last major holiday of the year before Christmas.

In the States, they’re looking forward to tucking into a lovely meal and declaring what they’re thankful for. While in the UK, we’re getting ready to buy Christmas presents and sip our Gingerbread Lattes.

Final Thoughts from UK vs. USA

If you are planning on celebrating Halloween in the UK, be sure to keep in mind that it is a more modest holiday than in the US. There will not be as many decorations, and the costumes will be more traditional. However, you will still be able to find Halloween supplies in supermarkets and party stores.

If you are planning on celebrating Halloween in the US, be prepared for a big event. There will be decorations everywhere, and the costumes will be elaborate and creative. You will also be able to find Halloween supplies in dedicated Halloween stores, such as Spirit Halloween.

Halloween (UK vs. US) FAQ:

Is Halloween American or English?

Halloween is an English holiday that has been adopted by other countries, including the US.

Do British kids trick-or-treat?

Yes, British kids do trick-or-treat. However, trick-or-treating is more popular among younger children in the UK.

When did trick-or-treat start in the UK?

Trick-or-treating started in the UK in the early 1900s. It was brought to the UK by Irish immigrants.

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