Friday, October 29, 2010

The history of Trick or Treating

WHO doesn't love Trick or Treating? As a child, it was so exciting to go shopping with mom to find the perfect outfit. I remember one year being Wonder Woman. I remember the plastic outfit I would wear and the face with the elastic band to hold it in place. Trying to find your way around looking through the tiny eye slots. How my voice sounded talking through the mask. How about the smell of the plastic. I still love that smell and when it hits me, I automatically think of the costume.

Sometimes we would make our own costume. Those were just as fun! Now that I am the mom, Halloween is just as fun. I went today to the store to buy my son the items needed to turn him into Frankenstein. My older two, along with their father, participate every year in the local Haunted House, so it is just he and I going around town.

This got me to wondering though, how did Trick or Treating come about?

This event dates back a long time ago to Britain on All Souls Day, which was Nov. 1. The beggars would "go a souling" or begging door to door. Housewives would give them special treats called "soul cakes" and the "soulers" would promise to say a prayer for the dead. The term "Trick or Treating" is an American tradition and can be found in print for the first time after 1939.

Scotland and Ireland also do this on All Souls day and they call this guising as the children are in disguises. The children in these two countries perform, whether it be singing, reciting a poem, or a card trick. Then the household will give them their treat. In Ireland, as an old custom, they do this in preparation of the festival of St. Columbkill.

So, we have the fun part of it down, but why do we do this on Oct. 31? Well, the Celts believed that the night before their New Year blurred the boundaries between the living and the dead. The Celts believed that the spirits came to Earth to cause mischief and make animals sick. The Celts would also use the presence of the spirits to foretell the future.

Samhain, pronounced saw-win, means summers end. This was what the Celts called their New Year's Eve. During this festival the Celts would dress themselves up in the heads and skin of the recent animals they had killed. They took the weak and the old from their herd on order for the stronger to survive. The made huge bonfires and sacrifices of crops and animals. Then they would take embers from the bonfire and light the fires within their home before extinguishing the huge bonfire. They believed this would offer protection through the winter months.

Imagine this.

You are walking down the dark street in your neighborhood. You are almost home. Your feet hurt and but your child's bag is filled to the rim with his treasures he has collected. Every other corner has a street light on, but the one on the end flickers, shutting off for just the briefest of moments, before turning back on. In those few seconds of total darkness, an owl hoots in the distance and the wind blows, caressing your cheek ever so gently. Goose bumps decorate your flesh. A twig snaps off to your left and you turn quickly to see who or what it is. You feel slightly embarrassed for being so jumpy, but yet, you just can't seem to help yourself. You take two more steps and you hear the sound again. What is the sound you wonder? Your mind plays tricks on you and starts to imagine all sorts of things. And I ask you, could it be the spirits of the dead, come to wander the earth? I'll Let you decide!! Happy Halloween!


  1. Sarah great post! I love Halloween and wished that I had kids to celebrate it with. My first costume was Casper the friendly ghost. I hated that outfit. I wanted to be a princess of course. LOL

    We did not trick or treat much in our neighborhood. My mom didn't really care for Halloween. There a lot that don't including some people who have quite recently said to me that it is unchristian like to celebrate Halloween.

    Your information on All Hallows Eve is dead on. I just had this same conversation with my Boss who is pretty savvy when it comes to all things historical (History being one of his majors in college) and we spent over an hour discusses this topic and the myths that have cultivated what we believe to be the reason behind Halloween. I have tried explaining time and time again that this is not a devil's ritual steeped in sending your soul to hell but try as I may people are going to believe what they want.

    If you ever explore some of the holidays that non-Americans celebrate you will find a fascinating story about the Church and it's manipulation of stopping the heathens from celebrating what are considered pagan rites.

    Well at least we have candy to eat now! LOL

  2. Thanks Lizzie for commenting! I hope you have a lot of Trick or Treaters in your neighborhood this weekend. And save some of the candy for the kids!!!!

    I think with anything else in life, it is how you look at things. To me, this is just a holiday. We don't talk about it being a pagan feast or aanything like that. All my kids are excited about is dressing up and getting candy. I don't let it become more than that. We go to church and they are aware of things, but this is just fun to be had. I hope that makes sense.

  3. Reminds me of the last time I took my younger sisters out on Halloween. I wore my mom's silk robe dad brought back from Korea...fancy embroidery down the back. With a black wig, I was a geshia. Around the last corner before our street, a water balloon smacked me in the back. WE RAN HOME!