Halloween in NYC - Pumpkins, Parades, and Pranks


Halloween in NYC - Pumpkins, Parades, and Pranks

Halloween in NYC - Pumpkins, Parades, and Pranks
Photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Halloween in the US is an  unavoidable holiday. You will find yourself celebrating it regardless of your actual interest in the holiday, costumes, horror movies, or sweet treats. Halloween in America is everywhere from advertisements to neighborhood decorations and will, quite literally, knock on your door. The culture of Halloween is extremely evident around the city as we approach the end of October, and with the holiday just around the corner, we thought it was about time to discuss the best things to do for Halloween in New York City.

What is Halloween?

 First, we need to clarify what exactly we are celebrating. Although it is no longer the reason this cultural holiday is celebrated, Halloween started 2,000 years ago as a Pagan holiday celebrating the Celtic New Year.  That being said, none of the traditions from the two millennia old holiday have carried forward to modern times, and most of today’s Halloween traditions and history are from the beginning of the 1900s.

 Halloween Costumes

While it might sound like a great idea to be a pumpkin for Halloween in your apartment, riding a crowded subway while taking up the space of four people is not nearly as appealing.

One of the most highly anticipated parts of celebrating Halloween, especially for children, is getting dressed up in costume – and some people get extreme.  Children dress up to go trick-or-treating while adults usually dress up for the many Halloween parties that take place throughout the city. There are a number of routes people go – group costumes, couple’s costumes, scary costumes, celebrities or the classics – and all of them will be seen all over the streets of New York City on October 31. 

Don’t be surprised to get invited to costume parties with costume contests or costume guidelines – costumes are all the rage on this holiday. Expect to look like the odd one if you’re not in costume.  You should also assume that any Halloween party you are going to in New York City is going to be a costume party.

Bear in mind, you do have to wear your costume all night. While it might sound like a great idea to be a pumpkin for Halloween in your apartment, riding a crowded subway while taking up the space of four people is not nearly as appealing.

 Trick or Treating

Trick or treat! - Photo by Joe ShlabotnikAlthough the holiday has a reputation for being filled with horror and ridiculous costumes, there are a number of family-friendly activities that you – and your children – can get involved in.

The most obvious, of course, is trick-or-treating.  This is a quintessential ritual in the United States where children get dressed up in costumes and go door to door to collect candy. How trick-or-treating works in New York will depend on the neighborhood in which you live.  If you live in a rural or suburban neighborhood like Brooklyn Heights, the Upper West Side, Park Slope or Queens, door-to-door trick-or-treating can be expected.  You should plan ahead and buy candy to distribute to the kids – or you may seem very unfriendly to your neighbors.

There will also be a number of street closures to allow children to trick-or-treat safely in busier neighborhoods. If you are living in Manhattan, a more common option, especially in a high-rise building, is to have a sign-up sheet on which you and your kids can sign up to trick-or-treat in the building. This way you know exactly which of your neighbors are taking part.  This is a great way to get to know your neighbors and interact with them.

If you are taking your kids out trick-or-treating, do be cautious of where you go and always look through their candy to ensure nothing has been tampered with.  Many hospitals or public service buildings will offer candy scanning to ensure there is nothing questionable about your children’s rewards.

 The Halloween Parade and Other Halloween Activities

 For Adults

While a number of Halloween events exist in New York, the most talked about is surely the Village Halloween Parade. The parade is a celebration of costumes, colors, noise and fright – and if you are in costume, you can take part! It is definitely a must-see if this is your first Halloween in New York – but it is probably best to leave the kids at home.

Apart from costumes, Halloween is also all about horror. A fun horror-themed activity that is a must-do every Halloween season is attending a haunted house.  These are set up all over the city and allow you to walk through the buildings and experience some serious fright.  There are various levels of scariness in haunted houses – in ones geared toward adults you can expect people to jump out at you in a dark room, chase you with “weapons,” and shock you with surprises throughout the experience.  Some haunted houses even require the signing of a release form so that they can grab you.

There is, of course, no real danger, but you should definitely plan on leaving frightened! Some of New York’s best-haunted houses can be found here.

 A Family Halloween

Photo by aphrodite-in-nycWhile kids should not get involved with the Village Halloween Parade in the evening, there is a different parade in the village for children – the Greenwich Village Children’s Halloween Parade and Party from 3-6pm on October 31.

There is also a kid-friendly Halloween parade at the Hippo Park on the Upper West Side from 3:45 – 5:45pm on October 31.   Face it – your kids are going to want to show off their costumes!

 A funny and unique family friendly parade is the Pooch Parade on October 19 from 11am – 2pm.  Even your dog can get involved!

The New York Botanical Garden has a "Haunted Pumpkin Garden" featuring over 500 carved pumpkins and pumpkin sculptures. It is fun for people of all ages and is open from September 21 through October 31.

Into the Pumpkin Patch

Another great family option is head to the farms of New York City (yes – they do exist!) and pick some pumpkins for carving.  One of the best pumpkin patches in the city is the Queen’s County Farm Museum, which not only offers a pumpkin patch but also hayrides, traditional fall refreshments, a child-friendly haunted house, and New York City’s only corn maze! This is a quintessential fall activity in America and one that your kids are sure to enjoy. 

Across town, Brooklyn’s Great Pumpkin Patch offers a similar experience in a different borough. Once you’ve picked out a few pumpkins, have a go at carving them with creative or spooky designs – trust us, it is not as easy as it looks.

Devil’s Night – A Word of Warning

Although it is not a tradition celebrated by many, the night before Halloween, also known as "Devil’s Night" is a night of mischief.  This is a night were individuals play tricks on their friends – or strangers – by doing things such as smashing jack-o-lanterns that are on display, throwing eggs at a person’s house, or covering a staircase to one’s apartment building with tissue paper.  Realistically, these occurrences are usually from teenagers and not a real threat, but it is something you should be aware of in case you wake up to a smashed pumpkin on Halloween morning.

Celebrate Halloween!

Although it is a holiday that is unlike any other celebrated in this country, Halloween is a day that is full of character and really helps the United States celebrate the season of fall.  From pumpkin patches to costume parades, there are a number of ways for you and your family to get involved with the festivities.  No matter how you take part, Halloween activities are sure to leave a lasting impression as something you did while living in New York. 


Original article published 10-19-2012

Article originally published : October 15, 2013