Halloween isn’t exactly Black Friday, but it is the highest revenue-producing holiday for the candy industry, with approximately $2.5 billion in sales. That’s an incredible amount of sugar for one day. Of course, the less desirable Halloween candy tends to hang around much longer.
While Halloween is a night many dress in costumes and knock on doors asking/begging for candy, others look forward to the ‘trick” aspect, moving into the world of the criminal (See Devil’s Night in Detroit). It didn’t always mean that, however. Believe it or not, there is actually a religious significance to Halloween.
Halloween is All-Hallows’-Eve which is the night-before-All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day is also known as All Hallows Day—see the connection? Until the 1950s, when the Catholic Church simplified the church calendar, it was actually a liturgical vigil. All Saints’ Day also corresponds to the Day of the Dead where people (mostly in Latin America) remember those who have passed on, a sort of Memorial Day. Day of the Dead typically celebrates children who have died on November 1 and adults on November 2.
Trick or Treating has its roots in “souling” or “guising” (wearing disguises) where the poor would go around door to door asking for treats in exchange for saying prayers for the dead. Wearing costumes is a Celtic tradition where people would try to copy or placate evil spirits. When the poor would knock, they would beg for soul cakes—a type of short bread. According to legend, one chef was determined to make eaters think of heaven with every bite. She cut a hole in the middle of the cake, dropped it in hot fat and the donut was born.
Of course, if you go back even further than the Middle Ages, the pagan festival of Samhain was celebrated around the same time and marked the end of fall and the coming of winter, bridging the ancient world to a time of darkness and death. The church either “blessed” that tradition and took it over, or simply created a new festival to give the people something to celebrate.
Like a lot of holidays, modern society has changed the original message or purpose away from the religious and toward the secular, corrupting the original purpose. I enjoy the fun of Halloween, but in some ways I think it’s a shame that we’ve moved away from the original idea of remembering those who have gone on before us, saints or not, and reflecting on the year that has just past.
It is a real shame, though, that no one is giving out donuts for Trick or Treat anymore. I could get into that one…