Halloween is a relatively new holiday in the US and wasn’t always celebrated the way it’s celebrated today. Trick or Treating, wearing costumes, and celebrating everything spooky was unheard of in the US before the early 1900s. All Hallows Eve was considered to be a somber religious occasion by the Puritans who settled much of the northern part of the country. There are scattered references to people in the southern colonies observing Halloween, because there was more diversity of customs in the south, but Halloween was not considered an actual holiday until the late 1920s. Many of the Halloween traditions that exist today were adapted from European practices that were brought to the US by European immigrants.

In the mid 1800s huge waves of immigrants started coming to the US from Europe, and they brought with them their local holidays and customs. In Scottish and Irish communities “guising”, or dressing up on All Hallows Eve to go door to door and beg for money or treats became popular. The costumes that were worn were usually nothing more than a flour sack or rough scrap material with a face drawn on it wrapped around the face or using coal or greasepaint to create a scary looking face. While sometimes kids who were “guising” would play small pranks on houses that turned them away it wasn’t Trick or Treating the way that most people know it today. In European communities Halloween was often celebrated by adults at indoor parties where they would drink alcohol, feast, and play games like bobbing for apples.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s mass produced costumes started to appear. Costumes were sold for kids and for adults, who began to use Halloween as an excuse to have lavish and extravagant parties where people dressed up in costumes that mimicked fashion trends and pop culture figures. Costumes for kids were limited to figures like cowboys, ghosts, angels and demons. Sexy costumes for adults began to appear since it was considered acceptable for people to break from social mores for a night on Halloween. As the practices associated with Halloween got wilder people grew concerned about the damage done by kids who were “guising” and by the drunken adults having wild parties. In the 1940s the concept of Trick or Treating was creating to try and organize the chaos that had become associated with celebrating Halloween.

The Boy Scouts and local groups started to organize Trick or Treat events for kids, reasoning that if they held carnivals and organized events where kids could dress up and go door to door asking for treats people would be more responsible and the bulk of the damage caused by Halloween pranks could be contained. Trick or Treating reached its ultimate popularity after the war when people flocked to the suburbs and Trick or Treating in suburban neighborhoods became the beloved Halloween tradition that it is today. Adults still like to have wild parties on Halloween, that hasn’t changed much over the years, but Trick or Treating is still evolving. One thing is certain though, Trick or Treating is here to stay.