According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend approximately $2.6 billion on Halloween candy this year — that’s a lot of Skittles, Starbursts, and snack-sized candy bars. But as you’re buying bags of goodies to giveaway, you may wonder how this sweet tradition got its start.
Well, the answer isn’t totally clear, but let’s shed a little bit of light on this dark holiday.
Many scholars think that Halloween can be traced back about 2,000 years to its roots as a pre-Christian Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced “sah-win”), which means “summer’s end.” The festivities, usually held around Nov. 1, were a celebration of the end of harvest season and the beginning of darkest days of the year. Because the ancient records surviving to this day are largely incomplete, our understanding of the holiday isn’t fully understood. But Samhain is also thought to have been a time for the spirits of the dead to be able to cross over into the other world.
Many scholars point out that Halloween was a separate holiday — and they would be correct — but many of the traditions, along with other pagan celebrations marking the beginning of winter and the rise of the dead overlapped, making their way into present day Halloween.
Costumes and Candy
During Samhain, folks would dress up like the dead and sing songs so others would give them ‘soul’ cakes — little round cakes with crosses on the top that, when eaten, symbolize a soul escaping into heaven — so the idea of giving out goodies isn’t entirely new for the fall holiday. Early costumes were usually disguises of some sort.
In the 8th century, the Catholic influence demanded that all pagan celebrations be replaced, so in came All Saints Day, Allhallows Eve, and All Soul’s Day — more religious in nature than their end-of-harvest/dead people festivities.
After a few centuries though, the old holiday traditions blended with the new, and Allhallows Eve became a night of giving out goodies to those dressed in costumes resembling the undead.
Tricks and other games
These days, no one takes the “trick” part of “trick-or-treat” all that seriously, but it wasn’t always that way.
In the late 1800s, playing pranks on Halloween was a regular part of the holiday. In the United States, mischievous tricks might include tipping over outhouses or egging houses. By the 1920s, the mostly harmless tricks turned to far more serious acts of vandalism.
Some people believed the holiday was getting out of hand and began to encourage young people to dress up and got door-to-door trick-or-treating instead of getting into dangerous situations.
It took until after the Great Depression and World War II for trick-or-treating to really take off. Once the government lifted sugar rationing and people had income to spare, their newly built neighborhoods served as a perfect foothold for the holiday to really take hold. Instead of soul cakes and creepy costumes, mass produced candy bars and a variety of costumes including clowns, cowboys, and popular characters became the norm.
Also see: how to best store your Halloween candy.
These days, princesses, superheros, withes, ghosts, vampires, and pirates are the top costumes for kids. Witches, vampires, and superhero are the top choices for adults.
Even pets get in on the fun nowadays. The NRF found that 29 million people plan to dress their pets in costumes in Halloween. The top costumes include pumpkin, hot dog, and superhero.
So now you know, that fun-sized Snickers you’ll be snacking on come Oct. 31 has a whole Halloween history behind it.
Also see: How to use leftover Halloween candy.
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