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How Halloween has changed in the past 100 years

  • How Halloween has changed in the past 100 years

    Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, is a holiday that takes place at the end of October. People dress up like creatures, monsters, or beloved characters and celebrate in fun (and spooky) ways. It’s the start of the new year for Wiccans, who believe it to be the time of year when the boundaries between the real world and the supernatural are thinnest. People could tell fortunes and make significant prophecies about the coming future. 

    But Halloween has changed drastically since its Druidic origins in Ireland (the original home of this mystical holiday). How people celebrate Halloween has shifted according to technology, the size of cities, and attitudes about celebrating a holiday as a community. Fears for the safety of children alone altered how people celebrate Halloween drastically.

    The origin of Halloween was religious, a day designated by the ancient Irish for celebrating and communicating with visiting spirits. It changed shape again when Catholic and Christian churches attempted to convert these people to their faiths. Modern celebrations of Halloween have incorporated aspects of these and other traditions. It’s now a day of lighting candles in pumpkins (and turnips) to keep ghosts away, but also perhaps gathering treats from decorated cars in a church parking lot. A child would be more likely to mention a talking skeleton than a sacred bonfire when discussing the origin of Halloween.

    Here’s a list of ways that Halloween has changed over the last 100 years, from how we celebrate it on the day to the costumes we wear trick-or-treating. We’ve included events, inventions, and trends that changed the ways that Halloween was celebrated over time. Many of these traditions were phased out over time. But just like fake blood in a carpet, every bit of Halloween’s history left an impression we can see traces of today.

    You may also like: 34 spooky dessert recipes for this Halloween

  • Celebrations close to the Earth

    It took mass Irish immigration, courtesy of the Great Famine, to bring Halloween to America. The Pagan roots of the celebration may be what led to it being popular with farm communities and people looking to connect with the land as the seasons turned. Natural elements often showed up in costumes of this time.

  • Pranks leading the way

    In past generations, Halloween used to be tied much more closely to mischief—namely, pranks. Throwing cabbages and stealing garden gates were among the most popular pranks. Nowadays, unless local police are in on the fun, playing pranks on Halloween can result in heavy fines.

  • Rise in Halloween parties

    By the 1800s, Halloween had become popular enough in America that unique methods of celebration had begun to crop up. Parties arose as the method of celebrating Halloween (perhaps to keep an eye on suspected pranksters). But Halloween parties saw a resurgence in the 1950s as the holiday focused on serving younger children and families.

  • Transition from homemade to store-bought treats

    If you were trick-or-treating in the 1940s or before, you would likely receive a popcorn ball, nuts, fruit, or money. Manufactured (and pre-wrapped) candy didn’t fully take off in the United States until the 1970s. Why? Parents were worried about the potential tampering of handmade treats.

  • Decline in fortune telling

    Halloween’s origins run deep in superstition, with fortune telling starting traditions like bobbing for apples. Often they included rituals to reveal the name of a person’s future spouse. Today, you’re more likely to find your fortune in a loaf of Barm Brack (traditional Irish Halloween bread) than a game at a Halloween party.

  • The introduction of Halloween’s favorite pumpkin

    Irish immigrants who introduced Halloween to America chose to carve pumpkins instead of their traditional turnips, echoing the legend of a cursed man navigating his way with a light in a turnip. It wasn’t until the 1960s that America would see the Howden pumpkin, a pumpkin bred especially for Halloween carving. It’s shallow flesh and sturdy stem make it perfect for carving—but not ideal for eating.

  • Secularization of Halloween

    Halloween was originally a religious holiday for druids, and is still celebrated as such by Wiccans. The surrounding days were also claimed as Catholic holidays centered on honoring the dead. But pushes in America to take away “evil” elements of Halloween and lower numbers of religious Americans have combined to make this holiday more about candy than evil spirits.

  • The rise of Halloween music

    1962 was the year that brought America “The Monster Mash,” a novelty song about the spontaneous party in a mad scientist’s lab. The resurgence in Halloween parties vaulted the popularity of songs like “Haunted House” and the oft-covered “I Put a Spell on You.” These recognizable songs would become associated with the holiday.

  • Increased spending on decorations

    In 2019, a basic Halloween decoration costs $27.05, according to a MoneyWise survey. Americans are projected to spend $2.7 billion on Halloween decorations, reports the National Retail Federation. Compare this to Halloween decorations from the 1920s, which were often made from paper and crepe.

  • Rise of manufactured costumes

    Until the 1920s, most Halloween costumes were handmade by the costume wearer or their family. This all changed in the 1920s with the advent of manufactured costumes from companies like Ben Cooper, Collegeville Flag and Manufacturing Company, and H. Halpern Company. Ben Cooper, in particular, gained Halloween popularity through the production of officially licensed costumes of popular characters. Making a Popeye costume is less appealing when you can purchase your own for $3.

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