Samhain: The Export of Halloween

When the Ulster Protestants (Ireland) settled in the United States in the nineteenth century, they brought their own Samhain/Halloween traditions along. They had parties, games, and masquerade parades, and their non-Irish neighbours joined the revelry. Most of what the other colonists adopted was the tradition of parties and games for children. Older children and young adults could attend these parties as part of local courtship practices.

In the 1930s, the tradition of Halloween pranking became a significant and expensive problem in many American communities. By 1950, most cities had some type of trick-or-treating event as a way of distracting the troublemakers.

Halloween caught on in the United States as a commercial event around 1970, when it stopped serving only as a holiday to entertain children and became a secular holiday for everyone. The LGBT community in New York adopted the holiday as a day to celebrate their true selves, college students began having costume parties and trick-a-shot events, and companies began producing paper-wrapped candy and house decorations.

As Halloween became prevalent in the United States, it also became more controversial. Some Christians aware of its Pagan origins objected strenuously to expanded observation of the holiday in the United States. People in rural areas especially referred to Halloween by the derogatory “Beggar’s Night” as they saw it as door-to-door panhandling and sometimes extortion. The tradition of pranking as currently practised is generally just base destruction, uncreative on the part of the vandals and expensive on the part of its victims.