Boo! It’s Halloween Time
Arguably one of the most fun holidays, and definitely the most spooky, Halloween has never been at the top of my holiday list. My overwhelming memories of it from childhood have less to do with the candy we collected and more to do with the fact that the weather never seemed to cooperate for trick-or-treating.
Growing up in suburban Chicago, I recall that October 31 was either the first blast of cold — reminding us winter was right around the corner — or it was rainy. Regardless, after donning our costumes before going out to collect our “loot,” we invariably had to put a coat on over them, obviously ruining the effect. Those of you who grew up in more hospitable climates don’t know how lucky you were — or maybe you do!
Most people in our middle class neighborhood were happy to answer their doors and fill our treat bags with the sweets we craved. But there was one house we stayed away from, one we called “the scary house” because the Addams family would have been right at home there. On October 31, this hulking home was dark, but the people who lived there had put a barrel of apples on the porch for us trick-or-treaters. My sisters and I never took one; I’m not sure anyone did.
I looked forward to the day when I’d be the one doling out the candy, but for most of my adult life I lived in apartments, and for the past 17 years I’ve been in a gated community that doesn’t have many kids. There was one Halloween when I lived in a home in suburban Dallas that I remember for my ingenuity under pressure.
I stocked up on candy — the good stuff, not the “knock-offs” we always shunned as kids — and waited for the doorbell to start ringing. It did, with greater frequency than I anticipated. As the night wore on and my candy stock started to dwindle, I was fearful that I’d have to turn off the outside lights as a sign that this home was “closed for business.” I had three pieces left when I answered the bell to find four trick-or-treaters at my door. Yikes!
I didn’t want to disappoint one of the kids, but I had to think fast. I gave out my last three pieces of candy and told the fourth kid to wait a moment, saying I was going to get something really special for her. I ran into my kitchen and found the only sweet thing in it: a box of instant hot chocolate. I grabbed it and presented a pouch to the candy-less kid, who was thrilled.
I was able to treat a few more groups of kids with something I bet their parents approved of. That’s what I call fast thinking!
I know many adults still like to dress up for Halloween — even those without kids — but I’m not one of them. October 31 usually goes by like any other day, except for one year when I decided to have a Halloween wine tasting party. I bought a lot of orange and black decorations and insisted on the invitations that guests come in costume. Most of my friends got into the spirit and dressed appropriately, but one did not. My friend David came to the door as himself — the first to arrive — so I put on my thinking cap and “dressed” him as a sad Cubs fan, letting him wear one of my many Cubs caps and drawing tears running down his face. (This was way before 2016, when the Cubs broke their 108-year championship drought; “sad” previously was our usual demeanor.)
Not too long ago, I found the box of Halloween décor in my garage, somewhat appropriately covered in cobwebs. Figuring I’ve hosted my last Halloween party, I cleaned off its exterior and gifted it to my neighbors, who have many years of Halloween celebrations to come since they have a 3-year-old daughter. Bet she doesn’t know how Halloween started…
It’s a sure bet that the first Halloweens did not include candy or any of the traditions we now consider usual for October 31. The holiday started about 2,000 years ago, when Celtic people in Europe celebrated the end of the harvest and the start of a new year in a festival called Samhain. According to the American Folklife Center, it was also a time to commune with otherworldly spirits by lighting big bonfires to honor the dead.
The Romans added some touches to the holiday and then a few centuries later, Christian popes worked to replace the “pagan” holiday of Samhain with events they designed. Thus, November 2 became All Souls’ Day, a time to pray for the souls of the dead, and November 1 became All Saints’ Day, also called All Hallows — which meant October 31 was All Hallows Eve, later Halloween.
People in Old England and Ireland continued to associate the time with the wandering dead — setting out gifts of food to please the spirits, and ultimately dressing in scary costumes in exchange for treats themselves, a practice called "mumming," similar to today's trick-or-treating.
The first similar celebrations in America were primarily in the South, but they were called “play parties.” The harvest was celebrated, and people would swap ghost stories and tell each other’s fortunes. During the 1700s and 1800s, women performed rituals on Halloween in hopes of finding a husband — throwing apple peels over their shoulders in hopes of seeing their future husband’s initials, holding apple-bobbing competitions because the winner would marry first, and even standing in dark room with a candle in front of a mirror, to make their future husband’s face appear.
Halloween took off in the 19th century, when Irish immigrants popularized the celebration with their superstitions and customs, like the jack-o-lantern — which originally was carved from turnips, potatoes, and beets. By the end of the 1800s, Halloween was Americanized with people holding parties that featured games, fall food and costumes, but trick-or-treating didn’t really skyrocket in popularity until the 1950s. Today, the National Retail Federation estimates Americans spend more than $9 billion a year on Halloween.
A Little Halloween Trivia
Here are a few facts you may not know about Halloween:
Halloween is the #2 commercial holiday in the U.S., second only to Christmas.
The average American household spends almost $90 on Halloween every year — for decorations, candy and costumes.
New York City throws the biggest Halloween parade in the U.S., with 60,000 participants, drawing more than two million spectators.
The most popular children’s costumes are superheroes, while adults are most likely to dress as witches. As for dogs, their most popular costume in 2017 was a pumpkin (and I bet most were not happy about it).
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are the top Halloween candy; candy corn, considered a Halloween staple, often appears on worst Halloween candies lists.
Animal shelters used to suspend black cat adoptions in the days leading up to Halloween, fearing they might fall into the hands of satanic cults — but now they use interviews to weed out those with bad intentions.
Primarily on the East Coast and in the Midwest, the night before Halloween is called Mischief Night or Goosey Night and popular for pulling pranks. This tradition never made its way to the West Coast.
Do you have any Halloween stories you’d like to share with us? That would be boo-tiful!