One of the traditions that children participate in on Halloween is trick-or-treating. This involves dressing up in costumes and going door to door asking for candy. Have you ever wondered how trick-or-treating got started?
The practice of trick-or-treating comes from several different holidays that were celebrated near the end of October. This is probably why the origins of trick-or-treating seem a bit “murky” at best.
For many people, trick-or-treating is something they did as children on Halloween. Those that did often want their children to celebrate Halloween the same way. It becomes a family tradition.
How did this strange form of entertainment get started? Some of what we do today comes from the Celtic festival of Samhain. It corresponds to November 1 on the today’s calendar.
The Celts believed that Samhain was a time when the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living (more than on any other time of the year). People would dress as spirits. The purpose was to fool the spirits into thinking that the people were just other spirits. It was a way to prevent encountering evil.
In the eighth century, the Catholic Church tried to replace Samhain with holidays that fit more into their own religious beliefs. This is when All Hallows Eve appeared as well as All Saints Day. By the eleventh century, the Catholic Church borrowed the custom of dressing in costume from Samhain.
In the Middle Ages, it became customary to dress up as saints, angels, or demons during Hallowmas. It was called “guising” (from the word “disguising”). Children (and some very poor adults) went door to door asking for food or money. In return they would give songs or prayers that were said on behalf of the dead.
People gave out Soul Cakes, a small round cake with a cross marked into the top, to those who came to the door dressed in costume. What we know as trick-or-treating was called “souling”, and the trick-or-treaters were called “soulers”.
By the nineteenth century, the tradition changed. Children still dressed up in costumes and went door to door. The difference was that the kids were now begging for fruit or money. In order to receive it, the children needed to do a “trick”. They could tell a joke, sing a song, recite a poem, or do something else that was entertaining. Do a “trick”, get a “treat”.
The first printed use of the phrase “trick-or-treating” was in 1927. Today, children still dress up in costume and go door to door. Often, today’s costumes are of popular cartoon characters or traditional monsters like vampires, zombies, and the like. Small candy treats are handed out to the trick-or-treaters. It is kind of interesting to think about how this odd practice of trick-or-treating got started.
Image by Harmony on Flickr.
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