Halloween is even older than Christianity itself. It all started as a pre-Christian Celtic festival called Samhain, which means "summer's end." Held around the first of November, the feast recognized the last day of the fall harvest and spirits crossing over, since they believed the veil between the living and spirit world grew thinnest at that time. People in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Northern France used to ward off ghosts by lighting sacrificial bonfires, and wearing costumes to trick the spirits.
Trick-or-treating has existed since medieval times. Back then, it was known as "guising" in Scotland and Ireland. Young people dressed up in costumes and went door-to-door looking for food or money in exchange for songs, poems or other "tricks" they performed.
Immigrants helped popularize the holiday in the U.S. When the Irish fled the potato famine in their country in the 1840s, they brought their Halloween traditions with them. The celebration spread across the country, until the mischievous Halloween pranksters reached an all-time high in the 1920s. Some believe community-based trick-or-treating became popular in the 1930s as a way to control the excessive pranksters.
Now Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in the country. It ranks second only after Christmas. Consumers spent approximately $9 billion on Halloween in 2019, according to the National Retail Federation. Spending was down a bit in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Americans still forked over $8 billion overall, or an average of $92 per person.
There's also traditional Halloween bread in Ireland. It's called barmbrack or just "brack." The sweet loaf typically contains dark and golden raisins, as well as a small hidden toy or ring. Similar to the classic king cake at Mardi Gras, tradition dictates that the person who finds the item will come into good fortune in the coming year.