Whether you are handing out or receiving the treats late this October, it's easy to get caught up in the magic of Halloween. And if the sight of jack-o'-lanterns and friendly ghosts make you grin, you are not alone.
A 2007 Gallup poll said that 80 percent of Americans planned on buying Halloween candy. Moreover, in both the United States and Canada, Halloween is the second-largest decorating holiday of the year, surpassed only by Christmas.
The way we celebrate Halloween today actually dates back to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which celebrated the end of the harvest season, and the Christian holy day All Saints' Day. For the Celtics, Samhain divided the year from the light part to the dark part, where there was no sun. Included in the festival were bonfires, which are still done during this time of year in parts of England and Ireland. According to halloweenhistory.org, trick-or-treating might have had its beginnings in the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folks would go door to door on Hallowmas (Nov. 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead.
Trick-or-treating was first mentioned in print in North America -- in Kingston, Ontario, Canada -- around 1911 and again in Chicago around 1920. The custom apparently spread from the western United States eastward, even though it was temporarily halted by sugar rationing during World War II. By the late 1940s, it became a fun national pastime and has increased in popularity ever since.
Although trick-or-treating has been a thrilling activity for decades, some families live in areas where it's just not practical or safe to take children out in the neighborhood. Others like the idea of having some temperature-controlled indoor fun. For that reason, thousands of little costumed kids enjoy Halloween at organized neighborhood parties or at shopping malls.
"From costume surprises to tricks and treats, the spirit of Halloween stirs the excitement of kids everywhere," said Jayne Stilson, assistant vice president of business development for Simon Brand Ventures, the business-to-consumer arm of Simon Property Group, which owns shopping malls throughout the United States.
Simon's Halloween festivities are expected to occur at 103 malls around the country. These events are usually hosted by the Simon Kidgits Club, a shopper membership program offering families a variety of hands-on fun and learning events throughout the year.
The activities at Halloween festivities vary mall by mall and can also depend on national sponsorships, which are still in planning stages for this year's events. "In addition to trick-or-treating at select mall merchants, many malls will hold coloring, pumpkin-decorating and costume contests, 'monster dances,' mask-making and other creative activities, as well as safety-tip sessions," Stilson said.
Jo Pearson, creative expert for Michaels Stores, believes Halloween fun starts with the costume. She recently completed a webcast for michaels.com that features an owl costume made from a T-shirt and hot-glued feathers, as well as a robot outfit made from a T-shirt and pants covered with duct tape.
"We don't carry Halloween costumes at Michaels, but we carry lots of accessories that help kids bring out their own personality -- for example, princess hats, boas and different things like that," Pearson said.
These costumes are not only for parents to do. "Kids want to get involved, too," she said. "These projects are quick and easy for mom, but this lets the kids get creative." She suggested decorating small clear pails -- perfect for holding treats -- to match the costume.
If you decided to go out to trick or treat, be sure to go through your kids' candy buckets to check out the goodies, tossing any treats that appear to be opened or unsafe in any way. Keep the youngest pumpkins safe by removing small hard candy, gum or any other choking hazards from their goody bags. And, as much as you can, limit your children's candy intake that night -- remember they've probably collected enough sweets to last clear through Thanksgiving.