World War II and Trick or Treating

At the time of World War II in the United States, the nation had a lot more to worry about than the somewhat newly conceived notion of trick or treating. Many goods and services were unavailable to citizens on the home front, and in an effort to help alleviate hoarding, price hikes, and angry citizens, the Office of Price Administration printed War Ration Books that made it possible to trade stamps in exchange for goods. Since a huge portion of the United States’ sugar came from the Japanese occupied Philippines, sugar was one of the first items to be rationed. War Ration Book Number One—nicknamed the “Sugar Book”—was handed out on May 4, 1942.

This rationing led to changes in the way Halloween could be celebrated. The kids who did go out to trick or treat were given what they could by their neighbors, but often were simply asked to come inside to visit the moms and dads of the soldiers serving the country. Town parades and parties had grown in popularity in the thirties, but due to the war and the demand for any available resources, many towns decided to cancel Halloween outright.

Besides the lack of extra resources for the holiday, another reason for the decision to cancel Halloween in many places was to discourage mischief. James Spinning, superintendent of schools in Rochester, New York, wrote in 1942. “Your government needs soaps and grease for the war…. Even ringing door bells has lost its appeal because it may be disturbing the sleep of a tired war worker who needs his rest.” The “tricks” of trick or treating were on the decline, due to a national mood firmly set against it, with many neighborhoods even forming watches to deter the mischief.

When sugar rationing finally came to an end in June 1947, the commercialization of Halloween began. Candy companies began advertising campaigns and children’s magazines like Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities had trick or treating featured in their October issues. Despite these efforts to rejuvenate the practice, the effort to restrain and recast the holiday of Halloween continued after World War II.

While adults were moving Halloween celebrations indoors and away from destructive tricks, the Senate Judiciary Committee under President Truman recommended Halloween be repurposed as “Youth Honor Day” in 1950, hoping that communities would celebrate and cultivate the moral fiber of children. The House of Representatives, sidetracked by the Korean War, neglected to act on the motion, although many communities adopted the change.

In 1951, Charles Schulz drew his iconic Peanuts characters in ghost costumes, preparing for “Halloween ghosting.” Just one year later, Disney came out with an eight minute cartoon with Donald Duck and his nephews showing everyone, especially youngsters, how trick or treating was done. These comic strips and cartoon helped spread the popularity of Halloween and showed kids worldwide exactly how to trick or treat, and in many ways, pulled the popular Halloween activity out of the fires of possible extinction.

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