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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 has come to be celebrated by people dressing up in all manner of costumes, carving pumpkins, and satiating sugar cravings. But the holiday also represents the start of the new year for Wiccans, who believe it to be the time of year when boundaries between the real and supernatural worlds are thinnest. For this reason, Halloween is also believed to be the most potent time for fortune-telling and making significant prophecies about the coming future. 

    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.

    The origin of Halloween was religious, a day designated by the ancient Irish for celebrating and communicating with visiting spirits. It changed shape 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.

    Stacker compiled 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.

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  • Celebrations close to the Earth

    Halloween gained popularity in the United States in the 1840s by way of a massive Irish immigration to escape the Irish Potato Famine. 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 was integrated closely with mischief—namely, pranks. Throwing cabbages and stealing garden gates were among the most popular shenanigans. Nowadays, well-known pranks like egging houses or hanging toilet paper from tree branches can result in hefty fines.

  • Rise in Halloween parties

    As Halloween gained popularity stateside, unique methods of celebration began cropping up. Parties by the 1930s were standard fare in Halloween festivities and by the 1950s, Halloween parties were mostly held at homes instead of in downtown centers: a byproduct of the baby boom at the time and the holiday being increasingly focused on children.

  • 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. Oftentimes, predicting the future 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.

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  • 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 who navigated 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. Its 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 made the holiday more about candy than evil spirits.

  • The rise of Halloween music

    1962 was the year of “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.”

  • Increased Halloween spending

    The days of paper and crepe costumes and homemade treats are largely behind us. In 2019, Americans spent roughly $8.8 billion on the holiday. In light of a sagging economy due to COVID-19, in 2020 that number is expected to fall to $8 billion in Halloween spending overall.

  • 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.

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