Trick or Treat Origin

Alex Williams
9 Min Read

Trick-or-treat is a traditional custom in several countries. This takes place on the 1st of November every year, in the evening, where the children would dress up in ghost costumes and go to houses asking for treats while chanting this phrase. The term treat refers to candies but in some countries, it refers to money. To know more about trick or treat origin, read further!

1. Trick or Treat Origin

The trick or treat origin comes from the Celtic tradition to celebrate the end of the year by disguising as an evil spirit. The custom of tricking or treating on Halloween started from the belief based on supernatural beings like the souls of the dead that roam around the earth and need to be appeased.

  • Go trick or treating has a complex history and is believed to have originated from Celtic pagan activities that took place around Samhain. This custom is a combination of ancient pagan customs and Christianized versions.
  • It is said that this custom wasn’t well welcomed in the US until the 1930s, because the people began threatening others for treats. By the 1950s the practice somehow got accepted as a culture.
  • Halloween means holy evening which is celebrated to honor saints. The eve of All Saints Day was called All Hallows Eve, and was later changed to the current name Halloween.

2. Hallowmas & Celtic Tradition

Trick or treating plays an important part in Halloween tradition as it originated from an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain. This culture originated in central Europe and spread across the world. They believe that on the night of 31st October, the boundary between dead and living becomes thinner. In order to avoid being recognized by evil spirits on Halloween, the Celtics would wear evil costumes and masks as a disguise. So, the idea behind trick or treat is that the families believe they could prevent the tricks of ghosts by simply giving candies to children. (See Are Ghosts Real?)

According to the pagan tradition, Halloween is referred to as Hallowmas. It is the time of performing healing rituals. Most pagans thought that the two worlds of dead and the living could be brought together and the wedge between them could be turned into a thin veil. Hallowmas too, is celebrated on October 31st every year. It is one of the eight pagan celebrations that happen every year. The festivals are about six weeks apart and the WICCA members will meet together to meditate and practice rituals. The name Hallowmas was termed between 1375-1425 in Middle English.

3. The Christian or Catholic Tradition

Around the 9th century A.D, the Catholic Church was establishing itself and part of its mission was Catholicizing pagan holidays.

  • The story says that the Catholic Church appropriated the traditions of Samhain and merged the celebrations of pagan holidays of Halloween or All Hallows Eve on October 31st, All Saints Day on November 1, and All Souls Day on November 2.
  • It also made the tradition known as souling. According to this tradition, the poor would go from door to door offering prayers for the dead in exchange for food or beer.
  • And there was also a specific practice known as mumming similar to trick or treat. This tradition was known to be originated from the British Isles. (See Why is Christianity popular in Europe?)

4. Trickery and its Rituals

This tradition dates back to the Celtic festival of Samhain. To pay homage to the dead, the people would gather around to light bonfires and offer sacrifices. Theories presumed that trickery or treatment developed into a tradition in which people embodied the spirits or souls of the dead and received offerings in their name. It is also believed that the practice grew into rituals in which people would dress up as ghosts or demons and perform a dance around campfires in exchange for treats to appease the evil spirits. (Also read What Is The Purpose Of A Totem Pole?)

5. Modern Day trick-or-treat

At present, Halloween is considered to be the biggest annual celebration in the USA. The sales of costumes, sweets and face paints are at peak during this occasion. Earlier, the tradition was more like a spiritual one but at present, it is considered family-oriented. It is practiced to prevent kids from playing pranks. The kids would go in costumes of superheroes and famous book characters instead of the old practice of dressing up as ghosts. This tradition is universally popular in USA and Canada however, is not common in UK or Ireland. (See What is a jack-o’-lantern?)

6. Trunk or Treat

In trunk or treat events, the adults would decorate the back of their cars for Halloween and load them with candies. Instead of giving candies from the house, they would distribute them from the car. Hundreds of kids would dress up while holding pumpkin bags asking for treats. Here, the adults get to socialize with the kids compared to normal trick or treat. This tradition is organized as events for the people to gather.

  • The volunteers for the event would buy candy and prepare for the event.
  • The one who is hosting will send a participant sheet or e-form to register. This way they know the number of people who will be attending.
  • The cars are given an allotted parking area and the safety of the children is not compromised. (See Debunking Witches Flying on Brooms)
  • In Ireland and Scotland, young people participated in a tradition called guising. It’s a tradition where the young people would wear costumes and perform. They usually sing a song, recite a poem, tell a joke or perform magic to get their treats in the form of fruits, nuts, or coins.
  • In Finland, the day before Easter, the kids in the neighborhood would dress up as Easter witches and go door to door holding twigs covered with feathers or crepe paper. The kids would give their crafts in exchange for treats. The crafts are considered as blessings to ward off evil spirits.
  • In Germany, this tradition is celebrated on St. Martins’ Day on November 11 after sunset. The kids carry lanterns door to door and sing songs in exchange for money, candy.
  • In Norway, this tradition began in the 1990s where the kids would go door to door and say Knask eller knep or digg eller deng which means trick or treat.
  • In Turkmenistan and other parts of Central Asia, trick or treat tradition goes by the name Ramadan caroling. The kids would go door to door and sing in exchange for money or candy. The tradition takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar.

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