A dream come true for children and a nightmare for dentists, Halloween is the one night a year where showing up on a stranger’s doorstep in a mask and taking their candy is not classified as breaking and entering. However, the October holiday has a long and dynamic history that eventually brought us to the laffy taffy cavities of modern Halloween.
The most commonly referred-to origin of Halloween festivities comes out of ancient Ireland, with the pre-Christian Celtic peoples. Halloween traces its roots back to the festival Samhain (Sa-win), during which the Celts believed the spirits of the dead returned to the earth. This festival included dressing as ghosts and leaving offerings of food out for the phantoms.
Eventually, this tradition evolved to include a person performing tricks in exchange for food, a medieval tradition called “mumming,” which is often considered the predecessor of trick-or-treating. After the Roman Catholic church spread throughout Europe and began to Christianize pagan population, the festival of Samhain was adapted and became known as All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), the Catholic celebrations of the departed faithful and sainted.
Trick-or-treating later made its way to America as early as the mid 1800s with an influx of Irish and Scottish immigrants. They revived the old world tradition of ghostly costumes and masks in celebration of Halloween, which had become an increasingly popular holiday in the West. From the 1800s through the Great Depression, Halloween celebrations, including trick-or-treating, were prevalent throughout the states. However, festivities at this time tended to be more trick than treat, with youthful pranks sometimes causing upwards of $100,000 in property damage. Unfortunately, trick-or-treating faded during the Second World War as a result of strict wartime sugar rations.
By the 1950s, trick-or-treating became a staple for American Halloween, transforming into the sugar filled holiday we know. Today, trick-or-treating is not only a staple of Halloween in America, but is also a major business, with $6 billionspent on the holiday annually, making it the nation’s second largest consumer holiday.