Commentary: Candy, chauffeurs, demons and Celts on Halloween

Halloween is nigh, and with it my annual struggle to leave a little candy for the kids as I snack throughout the night. Sometimes this means a dreaded second trip to the supermarket to stock up for the neighborhood kids.

At least, we think they’re the neighborhood kids. Each year more and more children arrive at our doorstep having been chauffeured from house to house by their parents. At least, I think it’s their parents.

Halloween is starting to look like the red carpet at a movie premiere, only with tamer costumes. At least, I think they’re costumes.

We’re paying our share of the $6 billion the National Retail Foundation estimates Americans spend annually on Halloween costumes and candy. If I had to guess, I’d say a few hundred million will be going toward Miley Cyrus masks alone — if you’ve seen the video for “Wrecking Ball,” you know there’s no other clothing necessary for her costume.

Candy and more candy

Because the Halloween candy displays have been up since August, the expiration dates are in danger of passing before the holiday even arrives. Halloween is second only to Christmas in retail holiday sales, which is not surprising considering nearly one quarter of all candy sold in the United States is purchased for Halloween.

According to the National Confectioners Association, 50% of kids prefer to receive chocolate for Halloween, as opposed to 24% who prefer non-chocolate candy and 10% who want gum. That means 10% of our kids are ruining it for everyone.

Gum for Halloween? How boring can you get? Why not ask for pencils while you’re at it?

A school night this year

This year Halloween falls on a Thursday, not a prime night for a trick-or-treating session. Unlike Fridays and Saturdays, kids struggle to get as many houses in as they can during the “magic hours” between 6 and 9:30 p.m., before shuffling home to get some sleep before school the next day.

Maybe this explains the chauffeurs that clog our driveways — “helicopter parents” grounding themselves behind the wheel in the interest of expediency.

A demon’s holiday

My Sunday School teacher hated Halloween, calling it a ridiculous night of ghost worshipping and door-to-door begging. She preferred to focus on All Saints Day, which on the Catholic calendar is celebrated the next day.

The year Halloween fell on a Sunday, not even the fact that I arrived to class dressed as the apostle Simon (charcoal beard, sandals, and one of my dad’s old robes) could win her over.

Instead, my Sunday School teacher quoted 1 Corinthians 10:21: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”

Needless to say, she brought no doughnuts that morning.

Thank the Celts for Halloween

I wish I knew then what I know now, chiefly that the origins of Halloween date back to the ancient Celts who celebrated their new year on Nov. 1. They believed that on the night of Oct. 31, the ghosts of the dead returned to cause trouble and damage crops.

The Celts wore animal skins and masks so the ghosts wouldn’t recognize them, hoping they’d be mistaken for fellow spirits. Eventually, they left bowls of food outside their houses to placate the ghosts and prevent them from entering.

Catholic Church gets in the act

Around 1000 AD, the Catholic Church co-opted the holiday by replacing these festivals of the dead with All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Soul’s Day (Nov. 2).

To celebrate the dead, cakes (referred to as “souls”) were given out to “soulers” (children and the poor) who would go from door to door on All Saints Eve to sing prayers for the dead. Each cake eaten represented a soul being freed from Purgatory.

In other words, the Catholic Church was an active participant in an early form of trick-or-treating.

Answering the critics

Surely this information would have been good for a set of doughnuts, but it’s too late for me. Instead, I offer this to the youth of today that they might be better armed against the critics of Halloween.

Just remember this gift if you show up at my house and we’re all out of candy. Chances are I’ll eat most of it well before 9:30.

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