22 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001
(212) 736-9000


Learn English in New York, New Jersey and Florida


How to enjoy America’s second largest holiday!

Zoni Language Centers' Halloween party - students in costume

Although most people have heard of Halloween, celebrations in the United States are really something special! At the end of October students studying at Zoni have the chance to experience one of the most fun holidays of the year! In this blog post we look at how to celebrate Halloween, its origins, where did it come from and how did it become so popular in the United States? Then we will tell you everything you need to know about West Village Halloween parade in Manhattan. Finally we look at Halloween at Zoni and how you can join in!

Halloween occurs every year on October 31. It is believed to have started as the Celtic festival of Samhain. Samhain was a Pagan fire festival and therefore fires played a very important part in the celebrations. In this festival people would put on costumes and build bonfires to scare away ghosts. Originally large bonfires were lit in villages and various rituals were performed to mark the end of the harvest. As time went on, these large village Bonfires were replaced by smaller “home” fires known as Samghnagans. These fires were lit to protect families from fairies, witches, evil spirits and bad luck.

Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church was not a fan of Pagan rituals and in the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1, All Saints Day. This day was to honor all Saints and to try to discourage the celebration of Samhain. The evening before All Saints Day was known as All
Hallows Eve. Even though Pope Gregory tried very hard to establish a Christian holiday, pagan traditions were very hard to get rid of. All Hallows Eve, which was later shortened to “Halloween” became a hybrid Christian-Pagan festival and started to resemble the holiday we know today.

How to Celebrate Halloween - A carved pumpkin or Jack-o-lantern

Halloween traditions

Have you ever wondered why we carve pumpkins on Halloween? Or trick or treat for Candy? What about other Halloween traditions?  Well, most of these traditions were part of the Samhain festival. Over time, they evolved into what we recognize today.

Did you know that originally people didn’t actually carve pumpkins? The first jack-o-lanterns were actually made from carved turnips! People would put burning coals in carved turnips and carry them on sticks! It wasn’t until much later that the Irish made the switch to pumpkins.

Trick-or-treating (dressing in costume and visiting neighbors to ask for candy) is believed to have come from ancient Ireland where they practiced what was called “mumming”. This involved putting on a costume and going around the neighborhood, singing songs for the dead. People would give the singers cakes as payment for singing to their dead loved ones.

The trick part of “trick or treat” is also believed to have come from Samhain. Traditionally, it was not the “trick-or-treaters” doing the tricks. Rather jokes, games and tricks were blamed on the fairies.

Halloween traditions - Trick-or-treaters dressed in costume

American Halloween

Halloween was brought to the United States by Irish (and other Celtic and English) immigrants in the 19th-century. Although it would take many years for Halloween to really catch on as a national celebration, it was a popular community event in places with a large number of Irish, Scottish and Welsh migrants.

It is believed that the uniquely American style of Halloween evolved from a mix of customs of different Celtic groups and the beliefs of Native Americans. Early American Halloweens included public events to celebrate the harvest. During the Halloween festivities people would tell stories of dead loved ones, tell fortunes, dance and sing. The telling of ghost stories also became popular at this time.

Nearing the end of the 1800s, Halloween in the United States went through another transformation. Instead of focussing on witchcraft, monsters and ghosts, Halloween became a holiday to celebrate community. Soon Halloween parties with games, Halloween-themed foods and costumes became the most popular way to celebrate.

By the 1960s Halloween had evolved into a holiday mainly for children, partly due to the baby boom during the 1950s. It was also during this time that trick-or-treating became increasingly popular. Trick-or-treating was a fun and easy way for the whole community to celebrate Halloween  ogether.

These days Halloween is for everyone, young or old, monsters and fairies – everyone is welcome. Halloween is so popular in the United States that it is now the second largest commercial holiday behind Christmas (but ahead of Easter!). Each year around $6 billion is spent by people on costumes, candy and celebrations. Speaking of candy, did you know that a quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween? Incredible!

Now I know all about Halloween, where can I celebrate it?

Well lucky for Zoni students, Zoni campuses hold their very own Halloween parties! Come to class in costume, learn English with witches, vampires, cats and more! After class enjoy delicious party food and participate in the costume contest! Halloween parties will take place at Zoni on October 31 . You can see pictures of last year’s parties on the Zoni Language Centers Facebook page. For information look out for flyers on campus or talk to your campus manager.

And what about after class?

Zoni students based in New York or New Jersey, can check out the world-famous Village Halloween Parade. This year is the 46th time the parade has been held and will include 100 puppets, 35 bands and 1000s of dancers, artists and people in costume. To watch or participate in the parade is absolutely free! However, if you are going to watch, you should arrive early as space on the sidewalk fills up fast! If you want to march in the parade you MUST be in costume. To enter the parade, you must meet at 6th and Canal at 6.30pm sharp. This is the only point of entry for the parade. The entire parade is outside and even with the crowds it can still get very cold! Whatever your costume is, make sure you have on good winter shoes and thick, warm socks. No one wants to catch a Halloween cold!

Regardless of which city or state you live in, you will likely find a range of fun Halloween activities in your neighborhood. From small parades, to haunted houses and parties in pubs and bars, Halloween is one of the most fun cultural experiences you can have while studying in the United States.