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How Halloween has changed in the past 100 years

  • The decline of 'soul cakes'

    The signature offerings for Halloween before candy were homemade soul cakes. They were tied closely to the Catholic roots of Halloween, and were symbolically given in exchange for prayers. These days, soul cakes are few and far between—although they're still baked on Halloween in certain parts of Europe.

  • Increased trick-or-treating safety concerns

    In 1982, a rash of poisoning deaths were tied to Tylenol pill bottles suspected of post-manufacturing tampering. The case was never solved, which inspired a wave of fear around trick-or-treating to the point where some towns in American banned it completely. Parents since have worried about razor blades, cyanide, and cannabis in Halloween candy—though most incidents of tampered candy are reported to be hoaxes.

  • Rise of latex masks

    Through the 1950s and 1960s, plastic masks with elastic bands were the norm for Halloween. They were cheap to produce and could resemble any character a child wanted to be. The game changed when vacuum-formed latex masks came on the market.

  • The rise of trunk-or-treating

    Emerging in the 1990s, trunk-or-treat events emerged as a safer alternative to trick-or-treating. Children gather candy from the opened trunks of cars parked together in a designated parking lot. The practice can inspire creative car decorations and has been nicknamed “Halloween tailgating.”

  • The rise of haunted houses

    The first haunted houses open to the public opened in 1915, but their Halloween heyday arrived during the Great Depression. People built primitive haunted houses that wound through basements and spooked local children. They were a great attraction for local children—and a great alternative to destructive pranks.

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  • Fake blood becomes a costume option

    The hyper-realistic fake blood we think of from movies like “The Shining” came about in the 1960s, invented by pharmacist John Tinegate. Nicknamed Kensington Gore, it launched re-formulations of fake blood that would appease audiences of horror movies in color. Today, most fake blood (including the kind you might buy from the Halloween store) is made with corn syrup.

  • Trick-or-treating stops—and is revived

    Thanks to sugar rationing in America, Halloween candy all but disappeared during World War II. Communities celebrated the holiday how they could. After the war, cartoons like “Peanuts” reintroduced the idea of trick-or-treating to American children.

  • Emergence of Halloween charities

    Charity balls are an elegant Halloween event in many regions of the United States. UNICEF introduced the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF program in 1950 to promote their message of “children helping children” on a more local level (and provide a candy-free activity for children). Spirit Halloween stores initiated the Spirit of Children charity for children’s hospitals in 2006.

  • Costume restrictions in public schools

    The 2010s saw an uptick in schools banning students from wearing certain costumes to school, often on the basis of sensitivity or the separation of church and state. 2016’s creepy clown sightings led schools across America to bar students from dressing as clowns for Halloween.

  • The rise of Halloween-themed TV specials

    When “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” debuted in 1966, the broadcasters probably had no idea they were starting a trend. The tradition has continued with annual airings of “Hocus Pocus” and “Halloweentown” by television networks. “The Simpsons” made a name for themselves with their annual Treehouse of Horror Halloween specials.

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