Where did the practice of trick-or-treating originate?
Sources attribute the start of the practice to the Celtic festival of Samhain, a sacred festival that marked the end of the Celtic calendar year, which was celebrated on the night of October 31. The Celts believed that the dead returned to earth on Samhain, and on that night, people gathered to light bonfires, offer sacrifices and pay homage to the dead. During some celebrations of, people disguised themselves in costumes made of animal skins to drive away phantom visitors; banquet tables were prepared and food was left out to placate unwelcome spirits.
According to History.com, in later centuries, people began dressing as ghosts, demons and other malevolent creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This custom, known as “mumming,” dates back to the Middle Ages and is thought to be an antecedent of trick-or-treating.
When Christianity spread into Celtic lands, the church designated November 2 as All Souls’ Day, a time for honoring the dead. Celebrations in England resembled Celtic commemorations of Samhain. Poor people would visit the houses of wealthier families and receive pastries called soul cakes in exchange for a promise to pray for the souls of the homeowners’ dead relatives. Known as “souling,” the practice was later taken up by children, who would go from door to door asking for gifts such as food, money and ale.
In Scotland and Ireland, young people took part in a tradition called “guising,” dressing up in costume and accepting offerings from various households. Rather than pledging to pray for the dead, they would sing a song, recite a poem, tell a joke or perform another sort of “trick” before collecting their treat, which typically consisted of fruit, nuts or coins.
In America, in the early 20th century, Irish and Scottish communities revived their traditions of souling and guising in the United States. By the 1920s, however, pranks had replaced doing “tricks,” changing the meaning of “trick-or-treat.”
Sugar rationing during World War II meant there were few treats to hand out, so trick-or-treating halted. But, it was revived during the postwar baby boom.
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