A History Of Trick Or Treating

A History Of Trick Or Treating

For most of us, Trick Or Treating on Halloween night is one of our fondest and strongest childhood memories.  Few things were more exciting than planning out your route to make sure to hit all the wealthier families whom you could count on for the best treats.  While the modern version of the tradition dates back to the mid-20th century, it is believed to have its roots in various Celtic and early Christian practices in Ireland and Scotland.

The contemporary practice of wearing a costume and going door to door for candy has its roots in two different traditions.  The ancient Celts celebrated Samhain at the same time that we celebrate the modern Halloween.  In Celtic tradition, this was the time of the year that ghosts and spirits were able to freely roam the earth - dressing up as a ghost or demon would work as a sort of defense.  If you came across a demon while out in the night, it would just assume you were one of its fellows and leave you be.  This pre-Christian tradition would be morphed into an annual Christian tradition in the

By the ninth century, Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted older pagan rites. In 1000 A.D. the church designated November 2 as All Souls’ Day, a time for honoring the dead. Celebrations in England resembled Celtic commemorations of Samhain, complete with bonfires and masquerades. 

Beginning in the Middle-Ages, children and sometimes poor adults would dress up in the aforementioned costumes and go around door to door during Hallowmas begging for food or money in exchange for songs and prayers, often said on behalf of the dead.  This was called “souling” and the children were called “soulers”.  Over time, as with most things, Trick Or Treating became a secular tradition and began to include the notion of committing pranks on those who did not provide the Trick Or Treaters with sweets. 

Vintage Halloween costumes were a little bit creepier back in the day.

The earliest known reference to "trick or treating" comes from the Blackie Herald from Alberta Canada in 1927:

Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.

Peanuts brought the phrase into the popular lexicon in 1951.

By the middle of the century, the current form of going door to door in costume to ask neighbors for candy had begun to appear in popular culture.  The first actual use of the phrase occurs in a 1951 Peanuts strip, with Disney following the next year with a Huey, Dewey and Louie short titled "Trick Or Treat".  Within a few years, the practice would become a rite of passage for most American children - often the first time they were allowed out after dark unsupervised. 


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