History of Halloween, Trick or Treat, and Integrity


By: Ama Larsen, Faculty Member, Online Bachelor of Social Work Program , Spring Arbor University

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), in 2019, 172 million Americans will celebrate Halloween and spend a total of $8.8 billion dollars in expenditures (NRF, 2019). Halloween is celebrated across the nation regardless of age. The top three Halloween costumes for children include a princess, superhero, and Spiderman (NRF, 2019). For adults, they are a witch, vampire, and superhero, and for pets, they are pumpkin, hotdog, and superhero (NRF, 2019). 

172 million Americans will celebrate Halloween in 2019.

Halloween has a rich history, as the act of wearing costumes dates back to thousands of years ago. The name “Halloween” comes from “All Hallows Day” or “All Saints Day,” celebrated on November 1st, and “All Souls Day” on November 2nd by the Catholic church when saints and dead ancestors were remembered and honored. Thousands of years ago, the Irish Celtic festival of Samhain celebrated the end of the harvest season. Samhain was used to divide the year, with Summer being the lighter part of the year and Winter being the darker part (Newgrange, n.d.). 

During this seasonal transition, it was believed the world of the living and dead briefly overlapped and good and bad spirits would roam the earth (Newgrange, n.d). To ward off evil spirits, community members wore scary masks and costumes. 

Evidence of trick-or-treating was seen in England when children would go to affluent homes and pray for the soul of the home owner’s deceased relatives in exchange for pastries (History, 2019). This was known as “souling” and later replaced with children “guising” or dressing up in costumes to perform tricks in exchange for treats (History, 2019). Immigrants, including the Irish and Scottish, popularized the Halloween tradition  of guising in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries (History, 2019). 

Each year, the holiday presents an opportunity for people to choose costumes, which can often hold meaning. Sometimes, costumes represent social commentary, reflect what we think about others, or simply indicate how we want to express ourselves. Halloween also opens the door for people to wear costumes some may consider inappropriate, culturally-insensitive, or offensive. Costumes of this nature can often inflict social and psychological harm on individuals and groups. Choosing a costume that is designed respectfully and takes into account the feelings of others allows everyone to celebrate the holiday with their personal integrity intact.

Integrity is the sixth social work core value.

Integrity is rooted in the Latin word “integritatem” which means wholeness, correctness, and blamelessness (Online Etymology Dictionary, n.d.). Integrity involves working and interacting with others in an honest and transparent manner, and requires making correct choices regardless of how difficult or complicated. Integrity compels us not only to recognize the difficulties of a particular situation, but also to take informed and thoughtful actions to assist others and ourselves when necessary.

Integrity allows us to live flourishing lives with a clear conscious. It challenges us to remove our masks, feed our own souls as well as those of others, and enjoy the innocence and joys of life. This in return can reduce stress, anxiety, and empower us to embrace the changing seasons in our lives with optimism and clarity. 

As Halloween approaches, the choices we make can cause emotional pain and distress or bring laughter, amusement, and joy. Making choices with integrity in mind can lead to a fun and festive Halloween for everyone.


History. (2019, October 3). How trick or treat became a Halloween tradition. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/halloween-trick-or-treating-origins

Newgrange.com. (n.d.). Samhain (Samin). The Celtic roots of Halloween. Retrieved from https://www.newgrange.com/samhain.htm 

Online Etymology Dictionary. (n.d. ). integrity (n.). Retrieved from https://www.etymonline.com/word/integrity