To Trick or to Treat: Where Did it Come From?

For those of us who’ve had the greedy joy of snatching candy at multiple houses from kindly adults in the name of a holiday, Halloween was one of the greatest days of the year. Not to mention the costumes and tv specials.



For the last century, ‘Trick or Treating’ has been a popular thing for American children. If you trace it back far enough, this past time can be traced to something called ‘Souling’. I’d be a fool not to mention Samhain here, the famously dramatic celebration of the Celts that served to ring in the dead part of the year. You know…the cold bit.


So first, let’s look at the apparent origins, Samhain. It’s October 31st/November 1st, as if that wasn’t obvious, at the basic practices were what you’d expect. Dealing with crops, moving livestock, and doing the hard bits anyone in an agricultural community would have to consider when preparing for winter. The fun bit was the festival, you know…the actual Samhain bit. By the way, it’s pronounced Sah-ween. Thank you, whoever decided to spell it that way. You made me look like an idiot for the last decade on the rare occasion I ever decided to mention Samhain to my grandmother. Anyway, much like the AWESOME ‘Dia De Los Muertos’, the Celts thought Samhain was the day when it was a crap-load easier for the dead to speak with them. Or chat. Or hang out. However you want to look at it, they’d be doing the opposite of what you generally expect dead people to do, which is rot and stay quiet 6 feet under the rest of the 364 days of the year. Of course you’ll all remember the main thing we’ve carried over into the modern day, lighting candles inside carved-out turnips, or even pumpkins for you dirty non-traditionalists, but they also made gigantic fires and sacrificed animals in honor of the dead, and to kind of keep them from getting ticked off at the living. They’d also sacrifice fruits and nuts, which I consider a terribly cruel thing to do, but it couldn’t be helped.




It’s the Middle Ages. Now we’re onto All Soul’s Day/All Hallow’s Eve, which was basically Samhain altered to be more Catholic. That’s cool with me, because it’s better than getting rid of the day all together. The church took a lot of pagan and non-Christian holidays that were popular to the extreme, and adapted them so they weren’t eliminated altogether. Oh, they tried, but you can’t keep a dead man down (oh, no.) So the church took holy celebrations, and made them basically take place on the days that Pagan holidays might have occurred. Pagan gods and spirits were classified as evil, and let’s not even mention the old ones (ia, ia, Cthulhu fhtagn.) All Soul’s Day was officially on Nov. 2, and people still did a lot of what they’d do on Samhain. Instead of honoring the death of the year and the dead, though, they simply honored the dead. Costumes, fires, all that stuff stuck around. Yet, now people in Europe and primarily England were going from door to door asking for goodies (like pastries and meat pies, but hopefully the type without human flesh in them) in exchange for praying for the souls of the departed. Remember that Souling thing I mentioned earlier? Yeah, that’s what this basically was. Eventually this changed to envelop more types of treats, like drink and sweets. Anything people could get their grimy peasant hands on, actually.



This brings us to present day America, the melting pot of the world…but…mostly Europeans. Traditions, culture, all of it has been carried over here by hook and crook. A lot of people disagree on this point, but it’s a general theory that Halloween as we know it really got kicking in either the 1920s or 30s, because there are articles about it in magazines. That’s generally their source. Not newspapers or books, but magazines…which makes sense, because god knows there are always freaking miles of Halloween mags on the shelf every year, starting in July. It’s the porn of holidays, right after Christmas.


As you’ve probably guessed, ‘Souling’ is now ‘Trick-or-Treating’. Most normal kids don’t collect meat pies or fruits and nuts if they can help it, but instead they’re always after healthy teeth-rotting candy. That’s where tricking comes in. Actually, the day before Halloween is usually when people play the tricks, and those too by jerk teenagers who’ve god grudges to bear. That’s called ‘Devil’s Night’, ‘Hell Night’, ‘Night of the Hormonal A**holes’, whatever you want to call it. This one has fallen out of practice, but it never hurts to explain why your tree got mysteriously tp’d last night.



SO there you have it. Kids dress up in costumes and demand candy at your doorstep every Halloween, because Pagans had a thing for dead people and seasons. The more you know.


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