An American in Durham: Halloween

By: Danielle Masterton

Halloween is the time of year when fancy dress in Durham takes on a whole new meaning. The streets become stained with (fake) blood and an unusually large amount of cobwebs appear. However, our version of Halloween is NOTHING compared to the commercial bigwigs across the pond. Our American correspondent Danielle Masterton tells us how to really do Halloween.

Free of religious creed and political alliance, Halloween is the ultimate Hallmark holiday. What could be more typical of the American dream (well the stereotype anyway) than a comprehensive night of celebrations in the honour of candy, costumes and mischief?

Having spent the glory days of my youth in Westfield, NJ, I am no stranger to the spooky delights of an authentic American Halloween.  At school, Halloween was a major operation.  A costume parade around the school (not participating equals primary school social suicide) followed by a Halloween sing-a-long. Oh yeah, a sing-a-long. Like Christmas carols – but not.
The Brits have taken this originally pagan celebration on board but really only scratch the surface when it comes to All Hallows’ Eve. Decorating your house is an absolute must. Westfield was transformed from Wisteria Lane-esque suburbia to a smattering of Disney-fied haunted houses. My next door neighbours even had a witch ‘flying’ on a wire from their house to a tree in their garden, not to mention a giant rope spider’s web sprawling across their property, much to the alarm of small children in the neighbourhood (i.e. me!).

Halloween costumes were first mentioned in print in 1911, so with a century of fancy dress under their belts, the kids of the USA have got some serious originality! Forget black cats, witches and devils – Halloween is a chance to get your creative juices oozing. The British take on Halloween fancy dress tends towards the spooky side – fake blood, vampire teeth and back combed hair (ahem). So cast away your 60-second ghost costume that you just pulled off your bed and get creative!  Halloween is a rogue kind of holiday, ungoverned by any institution, a unique occasion to liberate yourself by going out in any attire that takes your fancy… and to eat CANDY!

A wise man once declared the UK and the USA to be two countries divided by a common language so here’s some essential vocab in translation for your Halloween festivities:

Candy Corn: Zero resemblance to actual corn in neither taste nor form but probably the tastiest prism of artificially modified sugar you’ll ever come across.
Jack-O-Lantern: Official terminology for your pumpkin after it has been skilfully carved with eyes and mouth and the essential tea light has been delicately placed inside (the reality of pumpkin carving actually rather tricky…).

Mischief Night: Does what it says on the tin; naughty tricks carried out by youths (probably your older brother) the night before Halloween.  Mischief Night puts the ‘trick’ in ‘trick or treat’.
Pumpkin pie: Delectable post-Halloween feed; use your pumpkin remnants to whip up a scrumptious pie just in time for Thanksgiving.  Or do as the Americans do and buy pumpkin in a tin can, place in ready-made pie crust, bake, et voila!

Trick or Treat: You know this one already but you haven’t experienced it on an American scale. Start early to maximise candy collecting potential, a pillow case is your standard collection vessel; plot your route ahead of time to hit the houses with full size chocolate bars/toffee apples/pizza first! Creative neighbours are the best neighbours.

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