American Bars wants to you know, as you should be aware, except for Killer Clowns, everything goes this Halloween. Be careful as always, out there.
In Truth, America has an entire slate of Drinking Holidays that tend to occur about every couple of months. They are specifically selected, developed and designed that way. Take a look at the calendar; they are doled out equally to focus on drinking for different reasons, each one somehow important to the American public. In reverse order, just to be different, they are:
Fourth of July
Cinco de Mayo
St. Patrick's Day
Super Bowl Sunday
New Year's Eve
American Bars wants to be straight forward and honest.
So, the urban lore is that Halloween was a kids holiday for trick or treating and the dark, evil, demented Lords of Liquor and the Beer Barons, transformed it into a spooky bacchanalia of adult proportions.
The truth is if you look back to the origins of Halloween in America, it was an adult drinking holiday long before it ever trickled down to the kiddies.
Who do we blame for Halloween…The Irish, of course.
Halloween arrived in the United States and Canada with the Celtic immigrants of the 19th century, Ireland's potato famine brought hundreds of thousands of immigrants to North America, and their Halloween celebrations were at first viewed as an ethnic oddity.
Everybody thought it would die out, but instead it was adopted by non-Celtic Americans, so it became a continental festival rather than purely ethnic. In the latter half of the 1800s, Halloween developed a reputation as a rough and rowdy holiday. Masks, costumes and pranks were common,
So were parties. The 1785 poem "Halloween" by Scottish poet Robert Burns highlights some of the paranormal parlor games that might have been played, like dipping one's sleeve in a spring and hanging it out to dry. Then around midnight, an apparition of one's future spouse would appear to turn the damp side of the shirt toward the fire.
By the 1920s, banks and other businesses had started celebrating Halloween with decorations and promotions. The holiday had become a little bit commercialized with party decor and entertaining manuals on sale, but most costumes were still homemade.
But the pranking had gotten out of hand — or at least it seemed that way to many city leaders. Some cites, Los Angeles for one, had to hire several hundred extra police on Halloween night to keep an eye out for vandals during the 1920s. In Chicago of the same period, civic leaders gave out 100,000 free movie tickets in hopes of keeping rowdy adults and wild children busy on Halloween. What was once excused as the exuberance of young boys was beginning to look — to the modern eye — like vandalism.
Halloween became so unpalatable to adults that in 1950, President Harry Truman tried to actually rebrand that day as "Youth Honor Day”. (The Senate failed to act on the suggestion.) During this period, the shift occurred where adults pushed the child-like side of Halloween, and suppressed the adult side of things away while encouraging trick-or-treating and other nondestructive kid activities. The changing lifestyle of American families also contributed to the evolution of the holiday. Trick-or-treating became a a major suburban event, as massive new suburban areas were created in the 1950s and 1960s.
It was in the 1970s that the widespread commercialization of Halloween really began to take off. Stores started selling costumes and candy well in advance of Oct. 31. Meanwhile, by the 1990’s the holiday's adult side became more entrenched, with grown-ups dressing up for their own soirees. Then the alcohol companies and their advertising and marketing minions manipulated and transformed the holiday completely into the gigantic party held across America, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland each year. Japan, who adores American culture, has been ramping up U.S. style Halloween for about a decade now (with Tokyo Disneyland leading the charge). Mexico and South America still hold stringently to “Day of the Dead” ceremonies.
Meanwhile, pubs, bars and restaurants realized that they could capitalize on Halloween with widespread holiday promotions.
"It becomes a kind of segmented holiday," Rogers said. "It has a kiddie side and then it has a young adult side to it."
By the way, much of the paraphernalia of Halloween relates to American culture including Pumpkins (a native North American plant), hay bales, apples and other signs of the harvest. Halloween colors, like orange, yellow and black, are basically the colors of changing leaves and darkening skies.
Oh yes, the candy aspect:
Candy came to be associated with Halloween as trick-or-treating took off. Trick-or-treating wasn't part of the original Hallowmas tradition, but door-to-door encounters were. Poor people would knock on the doors of the rich, particularly homes where there had been a recent death, and offer to say prayers for the souls of the dead in return for food and drink. At the time, church doctrine held that people could actually pray their deceased loved ones into heaven, so any extra intercession was always welcomed.
In 1950s America, trick-or-treating became a way to encourage young people to do something other than cause trouble on Halloween. Oddly, the term "trick or treat" appears basically nowhere in books prior to the 1940s, when it suddenly skyrockets. The first trick-or-treaters were likely to find things like nuts, cookies and coins in their bags. In the 1950s, though, candy companies saw the opportunity to market individually wrapped goodies for the Halloween crowd. Life Magazine's first ad featuring Halloween was for Fleer's Dubble Bubble bubblegum, showed a woman with a black cat next to her holding out gum for a crowd of costumed kids.
So, dress up in your favorite costume without the former guilt of believing you were stealing a kids holiday for yourself. In actuality, you are reviving an adult holiday of great, ancient, Irish and European tradition, that was translated and transformed into a unique piece of American culture.
It was stolen for a time and transformed into a children’s event to keep down the vandalism and rowdiness that arose in the 1920’s (probably due to Prohibition). and eventually, with the coercions of Madison Avenue and the big alcohol companies, everyone can now fully participate.
And be safe!
- Scott Ringwelski for American Bars