25 Eye-Opening Ways Halloween Has Changed in Just 25 Years
All Hallows' Eve isn't what it used to be!
Year after year, Halloween seems to stay essentially the same. We dress up in costumes, collect candy, tell ghost stories, and shout "trick-or-treat." But in many ways, Halloween today is actually very different from the October 31st festivities you probably remember from the '70s, '80s, or '90s. From the size of the candy to the places where kids trick-or-treat, here are 25 ways that Halloween has changed in the past 25 years.
There are more parental chaperones than ever before.
Trick-or-treating was once a kids-only affair. We traveled in groups with our older siblings and neighbors, roaming the streets like candy mercenaries. It's only a fairly recent development that parents have tagged along, watching from a distance as their kids collect enough candy to last them the entire year.
Knocking on strangers' doors is becoming a thing of the past.
You might have thought trick-or-treating would be the one thing that stayed the same about Halloween. However, door-to-door trick-or-treating is becoming somewhat less common. Due to a combination of suburban sprawl and safety concerns, many families are opting for more contained festivities. For example, some kids today go "trunk or treating" at a local church or mall, where they can go from car to car collecting candy. Others simply trick-or-treat within their apartment complex, cul-de-sac, or immediate neighborhood.
And Halloween now has "hours."
When does Halloween start? If you asked a kid 25 years ago, they'd tell you, "It starts when the sun starts going down, and it ends when I've visited every house with candy." But these days, neighborhoods decide on the "hours" for Halloween—as in "you can trick-or-treat on Thursday between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m."—and that's that!
School Halloween parades are being canceled left and right.
Many adults have fond memories of parading around their elementary schools wearing a Halloween costume. But for better or worse, that tradition is slipping away. Many schools are opting to cancel their parades for a range of reasons. One Connecticut parent told the Connecticut Post that her child's school had canceled its 2018 parade due to "numerous incidents of children being excluded from activities due to religion, cultural beliefs, etc."
Another school in Central New York canceled its parade in 2018 over safety issues. "We have had literally hundreds of adults attending these events with no ability to monitor who is present," one official told Syracuse.com. "This is an unacceptable risk to student safety. This number of visitors is too large for any of our spaces including the gym and the cafeteria to bring the event inside safely. "
The candy is way bigger.
In the '70s, '80s, and '90s, we expected less from Halloween in general—and that included the size of our candy. Back then, almost every house handed out goodies you could eat in a single bite, whether that was a fun-size Snickers or a gum ball. But over the past decade or two, Halloween candy has grown exponentially. Kids today expect king-size chocolate bars and jumbo bags of M&M's.
We're more careful about peanut-based candies.
Peanuts are the star of many classic Halloween candies, including the much sought-after Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. And there was a time when you wouldn't think twice about handing peanut candies out to trick-or-treaters. But obviously, that's not the case anymore. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 13 U.S. children have a food allergy—a 50 percent increase from the late 1990s. Peanuts are responsible for many of those allergies. Between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of peanut and other tree nut allergies has more than tripled in the U.S. So, those Reese's have become increasingly rare these days.
Handing out apples became cool again.
When houses aren't passing out king-sized, peanut-free candy today, you might find them handing out the total opposite: fruit. Because many kids are trick-or-treating in more controlled environments these days (like those church-hosted trunk-or-treat parties), handing out apples has become possible again. Today, the person with apples has become not just accepted but revered.
But there are no more Sun-Maid Raisins.
Those little boxes of Sun-Maid Raisins, with the woman in a red bonnet clutching a basket of grapes, were once considered a bona fide treat. The plunk of those boxes as they dropped into our Halloween bags never failed to put a smile on our faces as big as the Sun-Maid woman's. But today, kids would rather have a fresh crisp apple than a box of wrinkly grapes in their trick-or-treat bags.
Our Halloween celebrations have gotten a lot less destructive.
Twenty-five years ago, many Halloween celebrations included silly string and toilet paper, but that's not really the case anymore. In 2004, Hollywood passed an ordinance that banned silly string from the area between 12 a.m. on October 31st and 12 p.m. on November 1st. Other cities, such as Detroit, have implemented mandatory emergency curfews for minors. Mischief managed!
Pumpkin designs have gotten seriously advanced.
Carving a pumpkin was always fairly straightforward. The eyes were triangles, the mouth was a ragged smile, and pretty much anyone with a knife could follow the basic pattern. But today's jack-o'-lanterns are works of art. People spend hours meticulously carving facial features that are eerily realistic or so macabre, they look like they belong in a Hollywood horror movie.
Social media has driven us to spend more on Halloween.
In recent decades, social media has inspired many of us to step up our game when it comes to the holidays—and there's data to back it up. "We started seeing an increase in Halloween spending about 10 years ago, and this was right around the time that social media started picking up," Serafin Smith of the National Retail Federation told Vox.
There are far more Halloween festivities for adults.
At one point, Halloween was about kids and kids only. But today, it's rare to find an adult who doesn't dress up for the holiday. One 2012 survey by DBB Worldwide found that 13 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 44 claim that Halloween is their favorite holiday, according to Forbes.
Study author Denise Delahorne said that adults are drawn to Halloween because it's low stress. "You don't have to travel or deal with relatives," she told Forbes. "There's not the holiday pressure to find a date if you are single. If you think about it, it's surprising that 90 percent of people don't feel it's their favorite holiday."
And for pets, as well.
Even if your pet only stays in their Halloween costume for a minute or two (or however long it takes you to snap a photo), pet costumes are big business. According to the National Retail Foundation, Americans spent an estimated $480 million on Halloween costumes for their pets. Around 29 million people plan to dress their pets in costume in 2019.
Experts say social media is also largely responsible for this uptick. "Everybody loves a cute dog or cat picture, but also you have the dog stars of Instagram pushing this massive trend to dress your dogs," dog fashion designer Jody Miller-Young told Vox.
Decorations have gotten seriously over the top.
It used to be enough to put a pumpkin on your porch and tape a skeleton cut-out to the window. Decorations were the bare minimum and rarely cost more than $20. We've come quite a long way since then. Halloween enthusiasts now decorate their homes for maximum scariness, covering their lawns with talking animatronics, realistic tombstones, and spiderwebs big enough to ensnare trick-or-treaters.
"It used to be you bought a pumpkin, carved it and put it on the stoop. That's it," Delahorne of DBB Worldwide told Forbes. "Now, you see cobwebs on the trees, witches and tombstones in the yard, and gigantic spiders. The commercial side [of Halloween] has really fueled the popularity."
You don't see as many paper-mask costumes.
Twenty-five years ago, the best Halloween costumes came in a box. Inside, you'd find a plastic mask on a rubber string and a poncho with the name of your character on the front. Nothing about the getup was realistic, but it got the job done. Today, masks are made with silicone or latex, with so much attention to detail that they can seem frighteningly lifelike.
We've started planning our costumes months in advance.
A few decades ago, nobody thought about Halloween until mid-October, much less started drawing blueprints of their costumes. It just wasn't necessary. You made one trip to the store to get your aforementioned costume-in-a-box and a few bags of candy and you were good to go. Well, the times they are a-changing. It's not unorthodox to begin planning for Halloween as early as June, especially if you're working on something really elaborate.
Dressing like a politician has gotten a lot more popular.
Kids have always dressed like presidents for Halloween. We still have those dusty Nixon and Reagan masks in our attics to prove it. But over the last few decades, it's not just presidents who get Halloween homages. Kids are dressing like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Alexander Hamilton, too!
We've gotten much more politically correct with our costumes.
Twenty-five years ago, there wasn't as much of a conversation about how certain costumes are culturally insensitive or blatantly racist. Thankfully, we've been improving, and you're a lot less likely to spot folks in questionable costumes roaming the streets these days.
There are Halloween TV specials that aren't It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
In the decades leading up to the 2000s, there was only one television special we watched every Halloween, and that was It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Every few years, the networks would try to lure us in with something new, like The Pac-Man Halloween Special or Elvira's Halloween Special. But nothing could compete.
Today, however, the Halloween television specials are coming fast and furious, and every one of them wants to be our new Halloween tradition. There are kids today who, if given the choice between Toy Story of Terror and watching Linus wait for the Great Pumpkin again, will choose the Pixar option every time. They don't know what they're missing!
The haunted houses are truly terrifying.
Haunted houses used to be easy. You'd turn out the lights, put out a bowl of wet spaghetti that felt like brains, have a few people dress like vampires ready to jump out of the shadows, and you were done. But modern haunted houses are on another level. They include mazes that you could get lost in for hours and monsters who will have you losing sleep for many months to come.
Some of these places are so terrifying that you actually have to sign a release prior to entering, promising that you're in excellent health. Who knew we'd be so sentimental about haunted houses that weren't designed to give us a heart attack?
We now use pumpkin as a food source.
As we previously mentioned, decades ago, pumpkins were decorations, first and foremost. We might dig out the seeds and toast them for snacking, but that was the extent of it. Today, it's not Halloween unless people are sipping and chomping on pumpkin-spiced everything. The gourd-inspired culinary options have gotten more extensive in recent years, including pumpkin-flavored cereals and pumpkin M&M's to pumpkin Kit Kat bars and Ben & Jerry's Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream.
We're a bit less terrified of poisoned candy.
After a 1982 Tylenol scare, when several people died after taking aspirin laced with cyanide, and a persistent urban legend that folks were slipping razor blades into Halloween candy, parents at the end of the 21st century were especially nervous about letting their kids eat anything from their Halloween loot before thoroughly examining it. Thankfully, this paranoia has begun to subside today. With more curated trick-or-treat destinations, parents are now able to concern themselves more with their kids' sugar intake instead.
Trick-or-treat bags are fancier.
For almost a century, there were two choices for carrying your Halloween booty: a plastic orange pumpkin or a pillowcase. But that's yesterday's news. Halloween bags today are fashion accessories, perfectly complementing your costume or, at the very least, demonstrating your exquisite taste. Bags these days come with so much bling, they wouldn't seem out of place on the runways of Fashion Week.
Hearing "Monster Mash" is no longer a guarantee.
The only certainty about Halloween 25 years ago was that at some point, either at a Halloween party or while listening to the radio, you were going to hear the song "Monster Mash." Someone was going to play it and then the song would be stuck in your head, and you'd be humming about a "graveyard smash" long after Halloween was over.
The "Monster Mash" is still a classic, but not necessarily one that's being passed down from generation to generation. There are kids today who would stare blankly at you if you started telling them about the Halloween ditty that "caught on in a flash."
We now celebrate multiple "Halloweekends."
Years ago, Halloween was a one-day party. But nowadays, there are sometimes two full weekends devoted to the spooky festivities—especially when Halloween falls in the middle of the week. To mitigate the problem, the nonprofit Halloween & Costume Association launched a petition in 2018 arguing that Halloween should be moved to the last weekend of October. They say that change would result in a "safer, longer, stress-free celebration." Time will tell! And to start prepping for Halloween, check out the 33 Terrific Last-Minute DIY Halloween Costumes for Adults.
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