No Tricks, Halloween is a Real Treat!

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

✦ Over the years October 31 has developed globally into one of the calendar’s most popular dates - the day, or more so night, of Halloween.


Despite its obvious spooky undertones, it is a time when the community unites, children dress in costume to indulge in the pastime of trick-or-treating, fancy dress parties are hosted, jack-o’-lanterns are creatively carved from pumpkins, bonfires lit and endless re-runs of classic scary movies such as the aptly titled Halloween are aired on TV and in cinemas.


All Hallows’ Eve or “hallowed evening”, as it is otherwise known, has very much become a juggernaut of a commercial entity, extremely profitable for certain businesses with an estimated consumer spending on Halloween-related items expected to reach an all-time high of USD10.14 billion this year, up from $8.05 billion in 2020, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics.


It has certainly come a long way to the multi-billion dollar industry it is today but where, how and why did it start?


Samhain festival


Halloween originated thousands of years ago in Europe when the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year. According to Britannica, “At Samhain, held on November 1, the world of the gods was believed to be made visible to humankind, and the gods played many tricks on their mortal worshippers; it was a time fraught with danger, charged with fear, and full of supernatural episodes. Sacrifices and propitiations of every kind were thought to be vital, for without them the Celts believed they could not prevail over the perils of the season or counteract the activities of the deities.”

Samhain festival, Halloween, Brilliant-Online
The Samhain festival

Many believed the boundary between this world and the next became especially fragile at this time, enabling them to connect with the dead, hence why the occasion adopted its darker, haunted moniker.


Priests, or druids, believed they could see into and thus predict the future during this time and, to appease their gods, they built bonfires and sacrificed crops and animals. Villagers would attend the bonfires adorned in animal skins as costumes to ward off ghosts and protect themselves from unwanted spirits from the other world.


Trick-or-treat


Trick-or-treating can also be traced back to this period when it became customary for people to leave out food and treats to appease wandering spirits. In time, people adorned costumes and disguises themselves and ventured from house-to-house within the neighbourhood as part of a process known as “mummimg”, reciting verses or songs in exchange for food and especially “soul cakes”, a treat similar to biscuits.


All dressed up in Halloween costumes for a night of trick-or-treating!, Brilliant-Online
All dressed up in Halloween costumes for a night of trick-or-treating!

Costumes evolved from simple tributes to saints made from animal hides to more creative outfits. It is widely believed pranksters in Irish and Scottish communities, drawing inspiration from the darker elements of the occasion, decided to adopt more sinister looking outfits in an attempt to spook unsuspecting neighbours, which gave way to the creative and scary costumes we widely associate with Halloween today.


With intervention from the Romans and then Christianity, the occasion spread elsewhere throughout Europe and subsequently to the United States, courtesy of mass transatlantic immigration in the 19th century. Large public parties were thrown to commemorate the upcoming harvest, tell ghost stories, sing, and dance. It continued to increase in popularity and served as a means to unite all manner of people from varying social, racial, and religious backgrounds – today it is one of the most popular and eagerly anticipated dates on the American calendar.


Growing celebration


It also, of course, developed commercially over the years, cementing itself as an iconic date in pop culture and spreading its reach to countries as far afield as in South America, most of continental Europe, Japan, parts of East Asia, New Zealand and, of course, Australia.


Whereas it may be still somewhat divisive and not yet totally embedded into the fabric of Aussie culture in the way it is Stateside, Halloween certainly holds its own in the calendar and is an occasion that is gaining in popularity. According to research conducted by Mars Wrigley Australia in 2019, the last Halloween before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, “43% of Australians plan to celebrate with nearly 60% claiming Halloween