STAWAR COLUMN: The psychology of trick-or-treating – Evening News and Tribune

Halloween is coming up Sunday and my wife Diane has already bought two large bags of candy and is still worried that we won’t have enough.

In our old house we never had trick-or-treaters, but even after being in our current home for three years, we still don’t know what to expect. This year over 172 million Americans will celebrate Halloween and they are projected to spend over $10 billion on merchandise such as candy, decorations, costumes and pumpkins.

Scholars believe that trick-or-treating may be rooted in ancient beliefs that restless spirits roamed the earth this time of the year and offering them treats would appease them. In Celtic countries, children would visit well-to-do neighbors on All Souls Day and offered to pray for their departed family members, to earn food, drink, or money.

In Scotland and Ireland, children wore costumes and solicited treats in exchange for performing a “trick”, like telling a joke, singing a song or reciting a poem. Immigrants brought these customs to America where they merged into our modern “trick-or-treating” custom.

Today, some people still demand a performance in exchange for candy. As a child I avoided those houses if possible. They were not only embarrassing, they took up too much valuable trick-or-treating time. I believed the phrase meant that if you didn’t get a treat, you were justified in pulling a trick, usually some minor act of vandalism, like a soaping of a window or pelting a house with eggs.

On Halloween in 1879, a Louisville Short Line train screeched to halt on its way through Newport, when the engineer spotted a body on the tracks. The “body” was a dummy placed on the tracks by dozens of delighted boys hiding alongside the tracks. In rural regions, outhouses were tipped over by pranksters and so many gates were taken off their hinges allowing livestock to escape, that Halloween was known as “Gate Night.”

Harry Sawyers, a Popular Mechanics writer, says that in 1894, bands of Halloween hooligans terrorized Washington, D.C, by recklessly flinging flour. The New York Times reported that “some of the streets looked as if there had been a fall of snow, and the pedestrian who reached home with his garments uninjured considered himself fortunate.”

Halloween pranks grew so dangerous, that by the 1920s many cities considered banning …….


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