Trick-Or-Treat – Halloween at the Turn of the Century

Although the history of Halloween can be traced back to Celtic celebrations approximately 2000 years ago, the more secular traditions that we associate today with Halloween began during the late 1800s.

From the archival collection, three sisters dressed for Halloween, early 20th century (A019.1.20)


By the start of the 20th century, Halloween had all but lost most of its superstitions and religious overtones.  At this time, Halloween became a community event where neighbours would get together for corn-popping parties, taffy pulls and hayrides.  Party goers would play games such as apple-bobbing or snap apple.  The object of snap apples was to take a bit out of an apple suspended by string.  To make it more difficult, it was sometimes played with the apple tied to one end of the stick and a lighted candle on the other end of the stick.  The stick would be hung to the ceiling by a string tied to the middle and the whole thing was then twirled.  The player was to bite the apple and avoid being burned by the candle.


The parties were an opportunity for dancing and spending time with those one may have fancied.  Another popular game made use of apple seeds to determine who would “get the girl.”  Two young men who fancied the same girl would stick an apple seed on each of her cheeks.  The one whose apple seed fell off first would “lose the girl” to the other suitor.


Practical jokes were also part of these celebrations.  Children would make scary noises in the dark, soap windows of neighbouring homes and perhaps even hide animals from their owners.  Just as it is today, this aspect of the Halloween celebrations was not welcomed by those affected by the pranks.


Aspects of the superstitions that were once an important part of the celebrations were and are still a part of the Halloween celebrations.  For example, the act of dressing up in costumes was based on the belief that spirits of the dead walked with earth on Allhallows Eve, and costumes would protect ones’ identity from these wondering spirits.

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