Halloween’s History in United States of America

Halloween as everybody knows it today is the result of the “melting pot” called United States of America. The mélange of traditions, religious rituals and pagan superstitions combined with an ever-growing media industry promoting the holiday has resulted in an extremely fun and popular Halloween celebration suitable for all types of people.

While nowadays Halloween is a universally accepted celebration, its beginnings were rather timid. New England population was mainly Protestant and did not celebrate Halloween or any other religious holiday related to saintly figures. Therefore, in the 1800s Halloween did not have too many adepts in this part of the world. In Maryland, however, the situation was more favorable for Halloween, with people gathering together to celebrate the harvest season. The “play parties” (as these gatherings were called), consisted of bonfires, telling stories with ghosts and dead spirits as central characters, singing, dancing and foretelling the future. Although these manifestations were similar to Halloween traditions and were held on 31st of October, the “play parties” were not considered descendants or reinterpretations of the Halloween holiday. Moreover, people were celebrating the end of labor season, the harvesting and the good crops harvested during autumn.

The Irish and English immigrants started walking door to door on Halloween asking for sweets or money in 19th century.

The middle of 19th century brought an increase in popularity for Halloween. American communities were growing fonder of the celebration and the continuous arrival of people from the British Islands fired people’s taste for Halloween’s traditions. In fact, many historians claim that Halloween’s popularity boosted in and after 1846, during the potato famine from Ireland. Chased away from home by the food scarcity, the Irish immigrants found their way towards the American continent and brought along their traditions and superstitions.The Irish and English immigrants started walking from door to door on Halloween, asking for money and sweets on Halloween night, keeping their home traditions alive. The trick-or-treating was soon taken over the established American inhabitants too. Yet the traditions was seen as a way of socializing, rather than a religious manifestation. Halloween’s recognition as a national holiday was only one step away. This step was taken at the end on 19th century, when the American communities have stripped Halloween of all its “devilish” and “ghostly” influences and transformed it into a holiday suitable for children and teenagers. Costumed parades, merry family gatherings and fun parties filled with seasonal foods and sweets have taken over the tradition of telling ghostly stories around the bonfire. Halloween was no longer a religious holiday marked by pagan superstitions, but a time of joy and merriment.

Trick-or-treating has become increasingly popular amongst children and teenagers. However, the 1920s and 1930s were marked by violent pranks masked under the Halloween tradition. The communities were exposed to acts of vandalism and the police found it more and more difficult to keep the teenagers under control, so decided that Halloween should be celebrated in the center of the town/village. Sweet treats were prepared and bonfires were organized for the members of the communities attending the celebration. This decision diminished significantly vandalism and violent actions, making Halloween a socially accepted holiday.

Children in Halloween costumes

Children in Halloween costumes

However, because of the demographic boom registered in the middle 20th century, the town center became an outdated solution. Children and teenager celebrations were now held in schools and kindergartens in order to better control the youngsters and organize diverse activities that will increase their interest in this holiday. Trick-or-treating was revived as a method of sharing the joy of Halloween with the entire neighborhood.

American Particularities for Halloween

  • In Ohio, Massachusetts and Iowa, the night in which children go trick-or-treating is also called “Beggars Night”.
  • The carved pumpkin is an American addition to the Halloween holiday. The pumpkins replaced the traditional turnips used by Irish and English people which were not available on the American continent. The immigrants discovered that pumpkins are larger and easier to carve, making perfect lanterns.
  • The “trick-or-treat” phrase first appeared in 1934 in an article published in a local newspaper from Portland, Oregon. The article told citizens about the vandalism from the Halloween night and informed people of police’s efforts to keep the phenomenon under control.
  • Anoka, Minnesota is the auto-proclaimed “Halloween Capital of the World” as it was the first town to officially organize a communal Halloween celebration. The authorities decided to gather people in the center of the town to prevent youngsters from letting the cows loose to run on the Main Street. Salem, Massachusetts is a strong competitor for this title.
  • UNICEF encourages children to raise funds for their peers in need by collecting money for Halloween instead of the traditional candies. It all began in 1950 when a Sunday school from Philadelphia decided to raise funds for the needy children in the area. They raised $17 which was sent to UNICEF. Impressed by their gesture, UNICEF started their own campaign in 1955 in which schools, parents and churches were involved. Children willing to part-take this cause should ask for the black and orange UNICEF boxes and materials explaining the campaign.

Nowadays Halloween is America’s second largest holiday (after Christmas) generating over $6.9 billions every year, with an average of $44 spent in each house for candies and sweet treats only.

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