Tonight, hordes of children will take to the streets seeking treats and threatening tricks if they don’t get their way.  As those of us located in Upstate New York prepare for what appears to be a very intense rainstorm, I find myself wondering what initiated this tradition anyway?  Lucky for you I did the research in order to answer that very question. 


            Generally, American Halloween traditions stem from Irish immigrants who, in keeping with their traditions, would wear costumes, ask neighbors for food and money, and pull pranks on All Hallows Eve.  The practice evolved into American Halloween “play parties.”  People would dress in costumes and tell scary stories during harvest celebrations, particularly on the Eve of All Saints Day (what we now call Halloween).  Modern trick-or-treating gained popularity in the 1930’s when American stores began to offer Halloween Costumes for purchase, and was cemented in American culture in the 1950’s when the phrase trick-or-treat first gained popularity and stores began selling Halloween themed candy.


            Jack-O’-Lantern’s have Celtic Irish origins, and a pretty creepy story to boot.  According to legend, Jack O’Lantern was a young blacksmith who bet against the Devil.  After thwarting the Devil, Jack made him promise never to take his soul.  Upon death Jack was denied entry to heaven, and the Devil refused to let him into Hell on account of their deal.  Thus, Jack was doomed to roam earth for eternity with his only possessions – a gouged out turnip and a piece of burning coal thrown to him by the Devil.  Jack put the coal inside the turnip to light his way through the country-side and the Jack-O’-Lantern was born. 

            Making vegetable lanterns continued as a tradition of the British Isles, where people would carve-out turnips, beets, and potatoes and stuff them with coal, wood embers, or candles as impromptu lanterns to celebrate the fall harvest.  As a prank, kids would sometimes wander off the road with a glowing veggie to trick their friends and travelers into thinking they were Jack or another lost soul.  This tradition was brought to America, which is also where the tradition of carving faces into pumpkins came into fashion. As early as 1892, the wife of the Mayor of Atlanta used Jack-O’-Lanterns to decorate for a Halloween party.  Thus, beginning Jack’s yearly reign over America’s windowsills and front porches. 

Poisoning Candy

            I have fond memories of my mother “checking” my Halloween candy which generally translated to her stealing some Snickers bars.  As an 80’s baby, I grew up in a time when there was a genuine fear among American parents that someone would attempt to harm unsuspecting children by poisoning candy or using treats to disguise dangerous objects.  Fortunately, this fear is rooted in myth.  Though there have been some instances where children were harmed by candy (one even died), they can all be traced back to instances where a particular child was targeted by a family member, or sad situations where a child was injured from allergies or other health complications, coincidentally on Halloween.  I’m not trying to talk any well-meaning parents out of inspecting the loot to make sure kids are safe, but there is no history of poisoning children with candy in America.  In fact, the most severe Halloween injuries typically include car crashes either with pedestrians, or because someone was drinking and driving, or both. 

            Whether you celebrate Halloween by trick-or-treating (even in rain boots), passing out candy, or cuddling up with your favorite scary movie, be safe out there.  And try not to run into old Jack.  From all of us at the Wladis Law Firm – Happy Halloween!