4-2 | Gangsters, Pranksters, and the Invention of Trick-or-Treating, 1930–1960


Gangsters, Pranksters, and the Invention of Trick-or-Treating, 1930–1960

Samira Kawash


For most children in North America, Halloween is one of the most exciting holidays of the year. But some critics insist that its emphasis on ready-made costumes, store-bought candy, and trick-or-treating seduces children into cultural passivity and socializes them to mindless consumption. These critics argue that trick-or-treating was an inherited tradition, invented, initiated, or imposed by adults to control undesirable Halloween mischief. This article turns to newspaper accounts from the 1930s through the1950s to suggest that these beliefs and conclusions about trick-or-treating are false and that, in fact, children originated trick-or-treating and shaped it to their own ends. In her view of trick-or-treating as part of the development of children’s culture in twentieth-century America, the author presents the role of children in initiating their own forms of play and contesting and negotiating such play with adults, all of which suggests a more complex understanding of Halloween and trick-or-treating in the contemporary context. Key words: beginning rituals; children as consumers; gangsters; Halloween; Halloween rituals; Halloween sadism; pranking; trick-or-treating