Trick or Treat, Give Me Something Good to Eat

Courtesy: Ylanite Koppens

Ever wondered where this Halloween expression originated?  Who started the tradition of asking and giving candies and other treats?  Halloween has always been a holiday filled with magic and superstition.  It is a celebration that began with the Celts as early as 1200 BC and has developed into a billion-dollar holiday, second only to Christmas.

The Origins of Halloween

The Celts, who spread throughout Britain, Ireland, France, and Spain, were credited with the origins of what we now call Halloween.  They celebrated the festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) on October 31, a date that indicated the end of summer and the harvest.  Since more people usually died during the cold winter months, the Celts believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth on this date.  It was a day that blurred the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead.  To ward these spirits off, people would light bonfires and wear costumes. 

It was not until the eighth century that Halloween started to become the holiday we know today.  Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as the day all saints should be honored. The evening before was All Hallows Eve (and later Halloween).  Similar to Samhain, big bonfires, parades, and costumes were an integral part of this celebration.  People would dress up as saints, angels, and demons.

In the mid-1800s, immigrants from Ireland helped bring and popularize this celebration in North America.  Because of the existing religious undertones, there was a movement to make this celebration more about community and get-togethers than about witchcraft and superstition.  During the festivities, families would give pastries called “soul cakes” to others in return for a prayer for a lost loved one.  By the 1900s, theme parties started to become trendy, especially on October 31.  After World War II, the Trick-or-Treat we know today began.

Just How Big Is It?

In 2019, Statistics Canada estimated roughly 4,071,114 children ages 5 to 14 knocked on doors asking for a treat.   The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates Halloween will generate over 10 billion dollars in revenue in the United States alone in 2021.  In a survey done in Canada (pre-pandemic February 2020), Canadians intended to spend nearly 1.4 billion dollars on this spooky holiday.  Over 2,000 farms provided more than 23.2 million dollars in pumpkins to Canadians.

We spend money on candies, costumes, and decorations. We celebrate with parties and take our children out for candy.  Halloween has even inspired some classic horror films, including Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street.  It has also generated more family-friendly movies like Beetlejuice, Hocus Pocus, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  These movies have collectively generated billions of dollars in revenue.

It’s Not Just About the Candy

Halloween has embraced fall foods and created some inspiring and memorable delights.  Who doesn’t love caramel apples?  How about apple or pumpkin bread?  Candy corn, caramel corn, pies, and other sweets are all an integral part of Halloween.

Let’s not forget the carved Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin, of which there are quite a few stories to explain its origin.  The Irish claimed that it was a tale about a miser named Jack. Tricking the devil out of money while he bargained for his life, Jack successfully delayed the devil from coming back for him for another year.  During that year, Jack continued his miserly ways.  After the year was up and the devil came back, Jack once again tricked him into climbing a tree. As the devil was climbing, Jack marked the tree with a cross. The devil could not come down, and Jack used the opportunity to bargain another ten years.  When Jack died, he was denied entrance into heaven because he was so stingy during his lifetime.  Jack turned to hell, where the devil would not let him in because of his past tricks.  He forced him to walk the earth forever while holding a lantern made from a carved turnip to light his way.

The Irish immigrants that had settled in North America eventually replaced this turnip with a pumpkin. Much easier to carve due to its size, they embraced the pumpkin as a replacement and made it into what is today’s Jack-O-Lantern.

Courtesy: J. Leziac

Yes, It Is About the Candy!

According to Statistics Canada, the value of candy, confectionery, and snack foods at large retailers was 613.2 million dollars (2018).  About 400 million of that was on Halloween.  The most popular Halloween treats include Reese’s Cups, Skittles, M&M’s, Starburst, Snickers, Mars, Maltesers, and Kit Kat.  Surveys amongst trick or treaters state that they each get at least 50 pieces of candy, with over 44% saying they get more than 100.  Let’s not forget about potato chips as well.  These little bags of goodness are not only light to carry but also contain little or no sugar.  Of course, they are full of fat, but you can’t be perfect all the time.

No, It’s About the Food

Halloween has made its way into the world of food as well.  With many parties, the necessity for Halloween-themed food ideas has come about.

It is easy to add a special Halloween touch to some classic favorites for any Halloween get-together.  How about a chocolate cupcake decorated like a mummy or pumpkin? How about dipping pretzel sticks in chocolate and painting a ghost face?  A ghost or mummy pizza is always another idea.  Red velvet cookies not only taste great but look a little bloody. Or, you might go a little more traditional and make some pumpkin hand pies or other pumpkin treats.  For little kids, use a cookie cut out to make a ghost or bat-shaped sandwiches.

Whatever your plan for Halloween, be safe!  Treat yourself and your loved ones to some great food.  Visit some great websites listed below for handy safety tips and, most importantly, enjoy the holiday!

Safe Kids Worldwide

Canada Safety Council

Kids Health

Canadian Red Cross

Collage Images Courtesy: Paige Cody (Halloween Dog), Hudsoncrafted (Candies), Geordie (Charlie Brown)

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