History of Trick or Treating

The end of October means Halloween, costumes, parties, and going door to door for candy but do you know where it all began? Let’s delve into the history of Trick or Treating and look at some statistics compiled over the past few years. Information in this blog comes from How Trick-or-Treating Became a Halloween Tradition The history of trick-or-treating, and how it became a Halloween tradition, and Americans will spend a record $10 billion on Halloween candy, decorations and pet costumes.

Ancient Origins of Trick-or-Treating

Halloween has its roots in the ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of Samhain, which was celebrated on the night of October 31. The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, believed that the dead returned to earth on Samhain. On the sacred night, people gathered to light bonfires, offer sacrifices, and pay homage to the dead.

During some Celtic celebrations of Samhain, villagers disguised themselves in costumes made of animal skins to drive away phantom visitors; banquet tables were prepared, and food was left out to placate unwelcome spirits.

In later centuries, people began dressing as ghosts, demons, and other malevolent creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This custom, known as mumming, dates back to the Middle Ages and is thought to be an antecedent of trick-or-treating.

Early Christian and Medieval Roots of Trick-or-Treating

By the ninth century, Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted older pagan rites. In 1000 A.D. the church designated November 2 as All Souls’ Day, a time for honoring the dead. Celebrations in England resembled Celtic commemorations of Samhain, complete with bonfires and masquerades.

Poor people would visit the houses of wealthier families and receive pastries called soul cakes in exchange for a promise to pray for the souls of the homeowners’ dead relatives. Known as “souling,” the practice was later taken up by children, who would go from door to door asking for gifts such as food, money, and ale.

In Scotland and Ireland, young people took part in a tradition called guising, dressing up in costume and accepting offerings from various households. Rather than pledging to pray for the dead, they would sing a song, recite a poem, tell a joke, or perform another sort of “trick” before collecting their treat, which typically consisted of fruit, nuts or coins.

How trick-or-treating became a tradition

A popular 18th- and 19th-century Christmas custom called belsnickling in the eastern areas of the U.S. and Canada was similar to trick-or-treating: Groups of costumed participants would go from house to house to perform small tricks in exchange for food and drink. Some belsnicklers even deliberately frightened young children at houses before asking if they had been good enough to earn a treat. And other early descriptions say that those handing out treats had to guess the identities of the disguised revelers, giving food to anyone they couldn’t identify.

In the 19th century, “tricks”—such as rattling windows and tying doors shut—were often made to look as though supernatural forces had conjured them. Some people offered candy as a way to protect their homes from pranksters, who might wreak havoc by disassembling farm equipment and reassembling it on a rooftop. By the early 20th century, some property owners had even begun to fight back and lawmakers encouraged communities to keep children in check with wholesome fun.

These pranks likely gave rise to the use of the phrase “trick-or-treat.” Barry Popik, an etymologist, traced the earliest usage of the phrase in connection with Halloween to a 1927 Alberta newspaper article reporting on pranksters demanding “trick or treat” at houses.

How trick-or-treating grew popular

Trick-or-treating became widespread in the U.S. after the Second World War, when rationing ended and candy was once again readily available. The rapid development of suburban neighborhoods where it was easier than ever for kids to travel from house to house also fueled the rise of the tradition.

In the 1950s, Halloween imagery and merchandising started to reflect that popularity, and the holiday became more consumerist. Costumes went from simple, homemade attire mimicking ghosts and pirates to mass-produced costumes of beloved TV and movie characters.

As trick-or-treating’s popularity rose, adults found it far easier to hand out individually wrapped candies than apples, nuts, and homemade goodies. Candy had first made its appearance in the 1800s at American Halloween parties as taffy that children could pull, and candy is now solidified as the go-to “treat.”

By the mid-20th century, Halloween tricks of old had all but disappeared. Children just wanted candy and homeowners with their house lights on gave it to them. Those that preferred to avoid candy-giving entirely kept their lights off.

Halloween Statistics

The average consumer is expected to spend $102.74 on costumes, candy, decorations and greeting cards, $10 more than last year, according to the NRF’s annual survey of 8,061 consumers, conducted Sept. 1-8 by research firm Prosper Insights & Analytics.

Most of the spending will go to costumes: $3.32 billion, 27% more than last year and the most since consumers spent $3.35 billion in 2017, the NRF says.

Almost as much – $3.17 billion – will be spent on decorations. And $3 billion will be spent on candy.

Two-thirds of Americans (65%) plan to celebrate Halloween this year, compared to 58% in 2020, and just below the 68% who celebrated in 2019, the NRF says.

Households with children are more likely to celebrate Halloween (82%) than those with no children (55%). Homes with children will likely spend more: about $150, compared to $74 spent by those without children.

Favorite ways to celebrate include handing out candy to trick-or-treaters (66%), decorating the house (52%), wearing costumes (46%), carving a pumpkin (44%), hosting or going to a party (25%).

Spending on Halloween for 2021 is projected to be $10.1 billion which is highest amount spent in the past 5 years.  Previous years saw spending amounts of $9.09 billion in 2017, $8.97 billion in 2018, $8.78 billion in 2019, and $8.05 billion in 2020.

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