Think of Halloween and your mind immediately goes to kids in Avengers costumes going door-to-door in pursuit of a scrumptious chocolate treat. Anything but the big orange peanut.
But the history of Halloween is a far cry from today’s modern celebration.
Halloween began as a religious holiday in the Middle Ages when it was called All Souls Day. On this deeply secular day, christians would go from village to village begging for “soul cake” in return for offering a prayer to the dead of the families they visited. Quite a difference from today’s experience of “give me a Kit Kat or I’ll egg your cat.”
The practice of children dressing up in costumes and going to door to door is a relatively modern one. It began in the late 1930’s and it wasn’t until the 1940’s that the present concept of Halloween became widespread in the U.S. Even then, candy wasn’t the definitive treat. As a matter of fact, the focus then was more on the “trick” than the “treat”. It was the one night of the year when kids’ (mostly young boys’) pranks were tolerated. The point was to be mischievous, not to collect treats.
In the 40’s and ’50’s doorbell-ringing ghosts and goblins were as likely to receive cookies, coins, nuts or small toys as they were to get candy.
During the late 1950’s candy manufacturers saw the rising popularity of Halloween and capitalized on the opportunity to expand their offerings. While Easter and Christmas had long been major holidays for the candy industry, Halloween’s growth gave them another rapidly rising demand for small, affordable candies. During this time, it became more and more expected that the handouts would be candy, culminating in the 1970’s when it became THE definitive Halloween treat.
Nowadays, Halloween doesn’t have any of the original religious connotations that were the impetus for the holiday in the first place. Instead, it’s morphed into a night of fun-size Snickers gobbled down by precocious tots dressed as Thor and Lady Gaga. I hear they’re dating actually.