Trick or Treating: A Halloween Tradition

October is officially here! Time to break out those Halloween decorations and buy your costumes. And the best part? Handing out candy to all the eager children on Halloween. Trick or treating has become an integral identity of the holiday. But why? We already dress up in costumes and go to haunted houses. Where does this tradition of giving and receiving candy on this scary holiday come from?

Halloween itself comes from Medieval Christian tradition where on the eve of All Saints’ Day, poor Christians would go door to door and offer a prayer to the rich household for those who have died. People believed that more prayers meant a soul was more likely to go to Heaven. In return for their prayers, the rich would usually give the poor food and beer.

After the Protestant Reformation, the popularity of the idea that souls could be saved through this practice began to lose ground. While there were Catholics who continued this practice, it began to have a bigger transformation when Scottish and Irish immigrants migrated to the U.S. The practice became more secular, with people dancing outside of tenement apartments for gifts rather than for the salvation of others. Along with the dancing, people painted their faces and wore costumes made out of old clothing.

With the onset of the Great Depression, what we know today as trick or treating became rather violent. The 1920s saw pranking and rowdiness on this holiday, but these acts became worse during the 1930s. The pranks escalated into vandalism and physical violence. However, these problems soon came to a halt with the arrival of World War II. During this time, sugar rationing occurred, which meant little to no sweets to be enjoyed.

Once the war came to an end, a baby boom occurred that changed a lot of things in the United States. One of these things was the tradition of trick or treating. During the 1950s, children dressed in costumes on Halloween night asking for candy became the standard practice that today is stronger than ever. The post-war period saw this activity as a kid friendly practice while at the same time bolstering consumerism, a huge characteristic of the 1950s. The rise of suburbs also changed the way people participated in trick or treating. Suburbs provided a safer environment for children and there existed less crime compared to urban areas.

Now looking at today, we can clearly see the success of the holiday within our capitalist system. Thanks to Medieval Christian traditions and 1950s consumerism, trick or treating has made Halloween one of the most popular and profitable holidays, coming in at $9.1 billion a year, with $2.7 billion spent on candy alone, according to Forbes Magazine. This has made the holiday the United States’ second largest commercial holiday. Can you take a guess on the largest?




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