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Why Do We Celebrate That? Halloween Tricks and Treats

Once again, Halloween is approaching, though eagle-eyed consumers will have noticed decorations as early as August this year! Last year, we discussed the ancient origins of Halloween, but as we answered some of the foundational questions about Halloween, more sprung up. If it’s a holiday of the dead and scary things, why are pranks so prevalent? Why have Halloween parties been thrown for generations? What in the heck is candy corn?! Today, we’ll find the answers you’re craving like a handful of chocolate on November 1.

Why Do We Trick on Halloween?

Anyone who has ever had their home egged or trees covered in toilet paper on Halloween will loath the phrase “trick-or-treat.” Why is it an option for there to be a trick? You’re likely willing to give out treats, after all.

Surprisingly, Halloween pranks have a long tradition that goes almost back over a hundred years. While some argue that you can find Halloween pranks’ roots in ancient times, when people would dress up to confuse evil spirits, it’s difficult to say exactly when mischief and tricks became part of Halloween traditions. We can definitively state that pranks became popular later.

Mischief Night traditions may have peaked in 1984, when arson contributed to over 800 fires committed in Detroit alone.

Around the turn of the 20th Century (the late 1800s to the early 1900s), Halloween was decidedly less about ancient spirits or candy. Instead, nights like Mischief Night or Devil’s Night catered toward youths and college-aged people looking to have a little fun and get into a little trouble. While this would often range from harmless pranks (like switching doormats) to more annoying ones (like the aforementioned egging or toilet papering), it began to get out of control around the 1920s and 1930s. In fact, by 1933, some cities considered banning the holiday altogether. While the efforts of community leaders and World War II would tame Halloween for decades, Halloween never completely went away. Mischief Night traditions continue to this day, though they may have peaked in 1984, when arson contributed to over 800 fires committed in Detroit alone.

Since the 1920s, there has been a concerted effort to stop or at least control the mischievous energies of trick-or-treaters and curtail the vandalism that often followed. This manifested in publicly organized trick-or-treating events, and more modernly, trunk-or-treating.

Why Do We Throw Halloween Parties?

One way that many communities tried to control Halloween is with locally sanctioned Halloween parties for both kids and adults. These parties were often ways to gather kids together and keep them out of trouble until they arrived home safely. But, this isn’t the genesis of Halloween parties. In actuality, large group celebrations go back to the very beginnings of Halloween, when the Celts would gather around bonfires to celebrate the end of the light half of the year, and the beginning of the dark half. Often, these celebrations would include games and feasts.

Large group celebrations go back to the very beginnings of Halloween, when the Celts would gather around bonfires to celebrate.

The other culture to influence Halloween is the Romans’ with their autumn harvest festival of Pomona. In Roman mythology, Pomona was the goddess of the harvest, making the Celtic festival of Samhain the perfect sister-festival to blend with after the Romans conquered Celtic lands. This is likely when bobbing for apples became a part of the Halloween, as apples were a symbol of Pomona. Apple-centric traditions were also used to predict one’s love life, when a tossed apple peel or bobbed apple with the right marking could determine who or when you would be married.

Play parties were also popular around Halloween in the United States. These were public harvest celebrations where neighbors would gather to sing, dance, and feast and would often share scary stories and tell each other’s fortunes. Popular games often involved the player’s romantic future, like seeing your future love’s face in the mirror. It’s easy to see how these play parties evolved from the ancient Samhain and Pomona traditions. As Halloween moved into the modern age, these parties evolved as well, into the more adult-centric Halloween parties we tend to see today.

From Candied Apples to Candy Corn

So, we’ve covered where the tricks come from, but what about the treats? While we’ve already discussed where trick-or-treating and the first trick-or-treat snacks — soul cakes — come from, there are many other classic Halloween goodies that have long histories. Chief among them is the candied apple. As mentioned, apples have always been a part of Halloween, but candy apples actually started as a Christmas treat! Invented by William W. Kolb in 1908, candy apples were sold along the Jersey Shore, and eventually became associated with Halloween. Caramel apples, on the other hand, were associated with Halloween since the 1950s when Dan Walker of Kraft Foods used leftover Halloween candy to spice up his apples-on-a-stick. Both are now seen as fun, delicious ways to make seasonal apples a little more fun for the holiday.

Candy corn was originally called “Chicken Feed,” since corn was considered animal food until around 1917.

The other candy we often associate with Halloween is candy corn. Much like candied apples, candy corn didn’t start out as a Halloween treat. It was originally called “Chicken Feed,” since corn was considered animal food until around 1917. At first, candy corn was marketed as a year-round treat, but the harvest connotations of corn, the festive coloring of candy corn, and a dramatic spike in October marketing solidified candy corn as the Halloween candy. Today, around nine billion pieces of candy corn are produced each year.

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Halloween isn’t just a time of terror. Sure, you can visit scary locations, watch scary movies, or enjoy horror-themed activities. But, there’s also the fun, communal element that makes Halloween such a unique holiday. What other celebration takes the things that should (and do) scare us and make them fun? Without the festive parties and odd traditions that truly sets it apart, Halloween wouldn’t be one of the most fun holidays on the calendar. Happy trick-or-treating!

Further Reading

Medicareful Living — Why Do We Celebrate That? Halloween Traditions