American Halloween festivities have begun with new immigrants' influx and the rise of the American middle class. Halloween was born out of Irish and Scottish traditions brought to American. By 1845 more than a million Irish migrated to America, escaping the dreadful potato blight plague.
In the beginning, Halloween centered around fun and play. Children entered houses and stepped over a broom placed to keep witches out. Divining the future by burning nuts and pouring water to read shapes was also part of the fun. Bonfires were common. Some games included boys dressing as ghosts and others dressing as a devil who pretended to be grabbed by the spirits and thrown in the fire. This game did not endure in America for obvious reasons.
By 1900 Halloween started to mutate again, and this time around, it was pranks and rowdiness, common to Irish celebrations. The night belonged to mischievous boys in the rural areas. Scaring passing pedestrians, ringing doorbells, and making startling loud rattle with the “tick-tack” immensely popular Halloween noisemaker toy at the time.
As pranks became more widespread, they also became more problematic. In 1920 pranks spread to urban areas and rapidly turned into vandalism and violence. Destructive activities included breaking windows, setting fires, tripping pedestrians, sawing down telephone poles, overturning cars, and opening fire hydrants were standard “pranks” of the time. Mischievous boys turned hoodlums. The government considered banning Halloween altogether. This is perhaps the root of trick or treat as we know today.
In response to these problems, towns have begun promoting civil get-togethers to keep the youth occupied and to give them a positive engagement as an alternative to destructive behavior. YMCA and the Boy Scouts started offering parades, costuming, and contests. Chambers of commerce and other merchant associations also joined the effort.
Store owners promoted parties, helped to build boxing rings and supported other social activities. Parents also created diversions for the young, providing home parties…