Halloween is a big holiday at this time of year in the US. Folks are carving pumpkins to make jack-o’-lanterns and getting their costumes ready for trick-or-treating.
Halloween is growing in popularity in the UK, but the big event for us is Bonfire night or Guy Fawkes. It’s a celebration of a historical event from 1605, when a plot to assassinate the king was thwarted.
You’ll hear about both celebrations this video and learn about British and American traditions. Our friend Jennifer describes how her family celebrate Halloween in the US and Vicki tells the story of Guy Fawkes.
Have you seen our other video, with scary words for Halloween?
Halloween vs Bonfire Night
Hi, I’m Vicki and I’m British but I live in the US now, and this season of year is what I call autumn, but Americans call fall.
America and the UK both have a have a special celebration at this time of year, but they’re different.
In the US it’s Halloween and in the UK it’s Guy Fawkes night, or Bonfire Night. You’re going to learn about both celebrations in this video and you’ll also learn vocabulary along the way.
To help me, I’m teaming up with my friend Jennifer, from Jennifer ESL. Jennifer’s American and she knows lots about Halloween. And I’ve got lots to tell you about Guy Fawkes, and British history. We’ll also to show you some family photos, and when we’ve finished, you can decide which holiday you think is best.
OK Jennifer. You can go first because Halloween comes first.
That’s right. We celebrate Halloween on October 31st.
Halloween combines different traditions and lots of fun. Halloween is also known as All Hallows’ Eve, and it’s actually been around for centuries in one form or another. Halloween has ancient Celtic roots, so the holiday came from what is now Ireland, the UK, and France.
At this time of the year, when the warm summer ends, and the cold weather sets in, people believed that the line between the living and the dead blurs. That’s how Halloween came into existence.
So the living and the dead get mixed up! Is that why people think of ghosts and zombies and scary creatures at Halloween?
Yeah, when the tradition first started, some people thought that wearing costumes would scare the real ghosts away. Today both children and adults participate in Halloween simply for the fun of dressing up and wearing costumes.
Dressing up is a huge part of Halloween in the US. The costumes can be scary, funny, beautiful… whatever you’d like. Take a look.
Oh that’s your kids! Wonderful!
In the UK, if we dress up, we generally dress as things like Dracula, or Frankenstein or mummies – so costumes that have a spooky theme. But in the US, people dress up as anything they want. It’s part of the tradition of trick-or-treating, isn’t it?
Yes. Trick-or-treating is a community event. It’s a lot of fun to see families all around the neighborhood celebrating in costume and giving out candy. For about two hours, kids go from door to door in costume. They know which houses to go to because families turn on their porch lights to signal that they’re participating in Trick-or-Treating.
The kids ring the doorbell if no one’s already waiting at the door. Each time they say, ‘Trick or treat’, and receive candy. No one plays tricks, by the way. It’s just a custom to say ‘Trick or treat’, like a greeting or a request for candy.
Often the adults giving out candy are dressed up too. Parents who are waiting back near the street remind their children to say thank you for the candy. Parents also hope to get some of that candy later, or at least I do!
Now, sometimes my students ask if Halloween is a religious festival or a celebration of the devil and dark forces, but it’s not. It’s just an excuse to party. I think it’s my favourite American holiday now.
How can you live in the U.S. and not love Halloween? It’s a huge deal for my children and me. We get ready a few weeks in advance because it takes time to prepare our costumes and decorate the house. And don’t get me started about carving the pumpkins! I can go on and on about the time it takes to make jack-o-lanterns.
Jack-o-lanterns. You’d better explain what they are.
That’s what we call the pumpkins after we carve them and place candles inside to light them up at night. Traditionally, we carve a scary or funny faces, but in more recent years, it’s become fashionable to carve different things.
Some people are really good at it. I’m learning, but it’s not easy to cut through the hard shell.
I know. I’m very impressed. They’re really hard to make.
I wonder if people in the UK have as much fun around this time of the year?
Well, when I was growing up, we didn’t pay attention to Halloween. It was no big deal. It’s growing in popularity now but it’s still a small holiday compared to the U S.
In the UK, we like to party a few days later on the fifth of November. That’s when we have Guy Fawkes night, or bonfire night.
This is a celebration of a historical event and it dates back to the year 1605. King James was the King of Great Britain and some people planned to assassinate him – so to kill him.
They got barrels of gunpowder and hid them in the British parliament building and waited for the king to arrive.
So it was a plot. They planned to blow up the building and kill the king.
However, the king’s supporters heard about the plot. They searched the building and discovered a man, called Guy Fawkes, hiding in the basement under the building with 36 barrels of gunpowder.
So the king was saved and the people of London celebrated by lighting bonfires. That’s how the tradition started.
Every November the fifth we have bonfires and lots of fireworks. When I was a child, bonfire night was probably the most exciting night of the year.
Preparations started a week or two before. We’d go to the shop and buy big boxes of fireworks and very importantly, we’d make a guy. A guy is a kind of effigy or model of Guy Fawkes. We’d get some old clothes, stuff them with newspapers and sew them together so they looked like a human body. Then we’d build a bonfire, put the guy on top and set fire to it.
Vicki, are you the little girl on the left?
Yes, that’s me! I think I was about 8 or 9 years old.
The stuffed guy reminds me of a scarecrow. We use scarecrows on farms to scare away the birds. Here in the US, scarecrows have also become common fall decorations. We don’t burn them though!
Looking back, it was quite dangerous because our garden wasn’t very big. Most people these days go to big firework displays instead. They’re a lot safer.
Wow. Talk about strange but oddly fun traditions! Do any of you have the tradition of building a bonfire? What fall holidays do you celebrate? Tell us in the comments.
Yes, and don’t forget to subscribe to both our channels. Happy Halloween everyone! Bye!
This video includes an image of Standard fireworks published by ‘Epic Fireworks’ which can be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/epicfireworks/4820206541. It is available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (cc BY 2.0) licence.
Click here to see our other Halloween video and learn lots of spooky words.