Halloween traditions in America were adapted from the Celtic, Roman, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day found in the article History of Halloween.
Because of the rigid Protestant beliefs the celebration of Halloween was extremely limited in colonial New England. Halloween was much more common and took hold in Maryland and the southern colonies. With time, the beliefs and customs of different European cultures as well as the American Indians intertwined, blending to a distinctly unique American version of Halloween. At the first colonial celebrations of the harvest, neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing. By the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.
America’s new immigrants during the second half of the nineteenth century, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland’s potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Blending the Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition.
The late 1800s, Halloween changed in America into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft. The turn of the century, Halloween parties designed for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate Halloween. Just like school, parties focused on games, foods of the season and festive costumes. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything “frightening” or “grotesque” out of Halloween celebrations. Because of these efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.
By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a community-centered holiday, with parades and parties- much like Mardi gras. Unfortunately during this time, vandalism began to plague Halloween celebrations in many communities. By the 1950s, town leaders had successfully limited vandalism around Halloween by creating celebrations mainly for children. Due to the high numbers of young children during the fifties baby boom, parties moved from town civic centers into the classroom or home.. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. The thought was families could prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighborhood children with small treats. A new American tradition was born, and it has continued to grow. Today it is estimated that Americans will spend $8 billion on Halloween, from candy, costumes for adults, children and pets to lawn decorations Halloween is big business.
• Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night by Nicholas Rogers
• Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween by David J. Skal
• Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night by Lesley Pratt Bannatyne