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How Canadians Celebrate Halloween

How Canadians Celebrate Halloween

Growing up in Canada, I often forget that most of the world doesn’t devolve into ghost and ghouls come October 31st.

Halloween is such a natural part of life in North America. Since the US dominates most of our TV shows, I never saw a life without the holiday.

Since moving to the UK for my Masters, I’ve been reminded that it isn’t a universal celebration.

It started when my Malaysian roommate asked me what Halloween is and how we celebrate it.

I didn’t know what to say. I’d honestly never explained it before.

Every conception I could come up with sounded cartoonish or demonic. I mean costumes of monsters, pumpkins carved to ward off demons and an abundance of sugar doesn’t exactly make sense.

I’m glad she asked, because it reminded me that Halloween is a unique holiday. Many people only know of it from American TV and movies. They never even see other country’s celebration.

Admittedly, Canadian Halloween traditions aren’t dissimilar, but I like to hope that we’ve put our own spin on it somehow.



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Costumes are probably the most common thing associated with Halloween. It’s one of the few traditions you can start as a child and keep doing well into adulthood.

Around September, most supermarkets, drug stores and party shops start stocking costumes. There are even some full year costume stores if you’re looking to start really early. Most people start costume shopping in October.

Costumes can be anything. They can be a pun, like the classic “cereal killer.” Or your favourite character. Or an animal. Or something terrifying.

It’s totally up to you!

Unless you’re a child. Then you get stuffed into a nightmarish, handmade clown costume that haunted you for years.

…you. Not me. That definitely didn’t happen to me.


Costumes Aren’t Just for Trick or Treating

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That’s right – we even dress up our dogs!

Halloween is a costume free for all. Work attire and school uniforms go out the door. Suddenly doctors offices are filled with butterflies and Supermans (Supermen?). Schools are overrun by video game characters and mobsters.

School children parade through the schoolyard for the older kids to see their costumes.

You won’t get penalized if you don’t wear a costume, but people will think you’re a poor sport.

I was always bad at figuring out costumes. I’d have too many ideas, then I’d end up doing none of them. Often I’d end up at school in a soccer jersey and say I was a “sports person.”

If you’re good at costumes, Halloween is a great time to break out that skill. Costume contests run in almost every bar and at seemingly every party in the country. You may not win more than bragging rights, but who doesn’t like to brag?


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Pumpkins are basically the mascot for Halloween. Specifically, jack-o-lanterns. A jack-o-lantern is a pumpkin that is carved to display a design. They are lit from the inside with a tea candle or an electric light that reveals the design in the night.


I was taught that they were meant to ward off evil on Halloween – a day when the boundary between the spirit world and ours was weak.

Or maybe it’s because someone really wanted to carve a pumpkin with their friends.

Now, pumpkin carving and having a jack-o-lantern on your porch is a staple in Halloween celebrations.


Decorating Your House

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Have you seen those insane photos of houses done up for Christmas with like a million lights and inflatable Santas?

Yeah, we do that in October, too.

Yards and houses become graveyards or ghoulish dwellings with spiders, skulls and cob webs. Some people make their entire front yard a haunted house.

Most people don’t go into special effects level decorations. You’ll tend to find a few “beware” or “keep out” signs with a skeleton, fake cobwebs and a witch in most yards.

People reuse these decorations every year.


Trick or Treat

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Trick or treating was one of the best things as a kid.

Who doesn’t want free candy??

My sister and I used to go trick or treating with friends around our neighbourhood. We’d take a pillow case, fill it to the brim with candy, go home and empty it, then head back out to fill it again.

There are some rules you have to adhere to when trick or treating:

  1. Always say trick or treat.
  2. You must be wearing a costume.
  3. Be prepared for no one to know what that costume is. Or, even if they do know, to ask you what you are.
  4. Don’t accept food that isn’t sealed.
  5. Don’t go back to the same house more than once.
  6. Full sized chocolate bars are WAY better than mini ones. Remember those houses from year to year.
  7. Say thank you.
  8. Wear a coat because it’s always cold by the end of October.

Trick or treating is just for kids.

Most people stop doing it between 11-14. By then you’ve transitioned from going with your parents to going alone. Soon after that you’re ready for Halloween parties and the free candy becomes less exciting.


Spooky Halloween

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Halloween is supposed to be tied to demons and monsters. So the holiday has its dark elements.

A lot of people choose to dress up as gore-y or terrifying characters. For every two princesses you see, there will be one grim reaper knocking on your door for candy.

Adults take this more seriously. People paint on fake scars and blood. They go to haunted houses to be terrified by people jumping out at them in the dark. They visit graveyards to get freaked out.

I don’t like being scared, so spooky Halloween is strictly off the table for me.

If you watch American TV, you might think Halloween has to be terrifying. Most shows have some sort of horror element to them around the end of October. Or the characters start bingeing horror flicks.

I much prefer the Halloween heist from Brooklyn Nine-Nine – it’s an entertaining yet entirely un-scary tradition. There’s usually just a bad witch decoration or pumpkin on the wall. That’s about as much darkness as I’m looking for. (Which is probably ironic considering I’ve been to a bone church.)

Grown-Up Halloween

Halloween is different for grown-ups. And by grown-ups, I basically mean anyone who can’t trick or treat.

There are three ways to celebrate if you’re not trick or treating:

  1. Hand out candy
  2. Watch movies
  3. Go to a party


Handing Out Candy

Handing out candy is a Halloween tradition in Canada. If you’re home for the night and your lawn is decorated (and the lights are on – that’s an important indicator that you still have candy), then you must have treats ready.

Most people hand our mini chocolate bars or mini candies. Conveniently, grocery stores will start stocking giant boxes of these in September.

You’re not supposed to hand out anything with nuts because of allergies. Homemade goods will get thrown out. Parents can’t trust strangers to give their children unsealed goods. Apples are a no-no ever since the myth of children finding razor blades in their apples. I think they’re a bad idea because cheeky kids might throw them at your house.

If you don’t have candy, American TV convinces people that your home will be egged or toilet papered. I’ve never actually heard of this happening. But it’s still a good idea to have lots of candy. If you have too much, you can always eat it!


Watch Movies

Bingeing Halloween shows or movies is a great way to spend the evening.

Every October, TV stations start running marathons of anything vaguely spooky. Pumpkins show up on almost every channel.

With all that, you’ve got plenty of content to fill a night.

Movie marathons of horror movies tend to be the go-to for Halloween.

I prefer Halloweentown – a show with nice witches and Debbie Reynolds as the cool grandma.

Again, candy is a must. You’re supposed to gorge yourself on junk food while you raise your heart rate to marathon levels.

I guess some people find that fun?


Go to a Party

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Halloween parties are a rite of passage in high school.

It’s a the transition from childhood to adulthood in many kids’ eyes. You’re no longer trick or treating. You’re partying in a short costume with a bunch of your friends.

Halloween parties keep going though.

In university, they go on for a full week. Every night you’re expected to have a different costume. It can be as simple as being in your PJs or wrapping a sheet around you like a toga.

Lots of places host events for Halloween, often coupled with a costume contest or a haunted house. They’re overpriced versions of clubbing, with a huge surcharge for the holiday. But people love it.

I prefer a house party where I can get dressed up in a half thought out costume and eat chips all night. It’s simpler. And cheaper. And way more fun.


I haven’t celebrated Halloween since I graduated from my undergrad in 2017.

I spent that October in Europe (I think I was somewhere in the Czech Republic?). Then I went to New Zealand, where I completely forgot about the holiday in the summer heat.

Now, I’m in England. Halloween is present in university parties and on the American shows I stream.

Seeing it around, silently integrated into life here, makes it hard to believe that little kids won’t be lining the street in plush lion onesies and roaring at my door for a mini Snickers.

The longer I’m away from Canada, the more I realize the cool things that we have. I don’t necessarily miss it – Halloween lost its magic once people stopped giving me free stuff. But I appreciate it more.

Growing up wouldn’t have been the same without Halloween.

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What do you do to celebrate Halloween?


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