I’m writing this article for anyone who lives outside of the United States who’s curious about Halloween and who wants to come and visit the U.S. and see how Americans can do a Halloween celebration. Halloween in America is truly a unique experience, but because it’s a cultural event, it can be difficult to gain access to some of the most endearing aspects of it without an insider acting as a guide.
John and I have done a lot of traveling outside the United States and we’ve seen a lot of festivals and done a lot of cultural things in foreign places. But there isn’t any place in the world that celebrates Halloween the way Americans do. Mexico comes close with its Dia de los Muertos celebrations, but in reality, if you scratch more than just the surface of Dia de los Muertos as a cultural event, it’s so radically different from Halloween as to be almost impossible to compare the two. In fact, it would be easier to compare Thanksgiving and Dia de los Muertos, in my opinion, but I digress…the USA Halloween festivities are entirely unique and like nothing you’ll see anywhere else in the world. And if you’re interested in seeing an American Halloween up close, I can’t imagine a better experience than seeing Halloween in a small town like Brule, Nebraska.
Few people realize this, but most Americans are a little bit confused about what Halloween is and where the Halloween traditions come from. A defining moment in the history of Halloween came with the hit television show It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown that aired for the first time in 1966. Charles Schultz, the developer of the show, essentially redefined Halloween through this cartoon (a show you must see if you plan to visit the USA during Halloween). Before The Great Pumpkin, Halloween was a rowdy holiday when kids caused trouble and vandalized things. After The Great Pumpkin it became a holiday for trick-or-treating when kids go around innocently from house-to-house asking for candy. Though there are still plenty of “tricks” that happen on Halloween, The Great Pumpkin made Halloween into a holiday that’s especially fun for kids.
Another mystifying activity that Americans do on Halloween is put on “haunted houses”. Now, apparently, there are a few isolated haunted houses in other nations outside of the U.S., but in America, there are haunted houses everywhere at Halloween. I know that in Tel Aviv, Israel there’s a haunted house and there are a few casas de terror in Mexico, but America is the place to go to see a real haunted house. Again, one of the cultural paradoxes pertaining to Halloween celebrations in the USA is the role of the Christian church in the development of haunted houses. The very first haunted house in the USA was a “hell house”, a theatrical event put on by a Christian church portraying hell. The modern-day haunted house is an off-shoot of the original hell houses created and put on by Christian churches. Despite their Christian underpinnings, many Fundamentalist Christian churches view haunted houses as evil. In reality, modern-day haunted houses in the United States, are more like a work of art or an exercise in utilizing new technologies than a religious exercise. Most haunt operators strive to put the latest and greatest special effects into their haunts and create the most spectacular sets, costumes, and characters to wow their patrons. Haunted houses are a flamboyant, but often humorous celebration of the darker side of humanity.
So if you’re planning to travel from another country to do Halloween in the USA, I highly recommend School District 13 Haunted Attraction in Brule, NE. I’ll admit that I’m biased because this is my event, but having traveled a lot internationally, I know how hard it can be to really see and understand events outside of one’s own culture. Brule is a small town in an area where few tourists visit. It’s not just a place to go to see Halloween activities, but also farming activities in rural America. As you park your car on the outskirts of town, you’ll likely see combines harvesting the corn fields in the dark. The grain elevator near the railroad tracks stays open late this time of the year so that farmers can dump grain while the weather is still cooperating with them. Halloween is also harvest-time in rural America which makes Brule a doubly interesting place to visit in October.
If you’re coming from abroad, you could fly into Denver International Airport, rent a car, and be in Brule, Nebraska within 2 ½ to 3 hours. There are a number of hotels to choose from in Ogallala and Big Springs, NE (both within about a 10 minute drive along I-80 from Brule). And if you’re coming a long distance, give us a heads-up that you plan to visit us at School District 13. If you’re interested in small town life in the Great Plains, or Halloween in America, we’d love to give you an unforgettable experience with us!