Halloween History and Origins of Trick or Treat
"Trick or treat" has become the most popular activity among the many forms of Halloween celebrations in America, and it is also a rather recent development. Trick or treating has been around less than a hundred years. Having children going door-to-door to get sweet treats has developed into a community wide event.
The best clue for how trick or treat got started comes to us from the Middle, or Dark Ages, when the Catholic church approved the act of "souling". This event was devised so that beggars could go around asking for food, usually barley or oat cakes, in exchange for prayers. The Catholic church said the prayers were an extra bit of "insurance" that a dead person's spirit would be given entry into heaven. Soul Cake day is no longer in common practice in England, but it is still rather popular in Scotland and Ireland and from this, it is believed, the concept of trick or treat arose.
Trick or treating didn't start happening in America until sometime in the early part of the 20th century. It was first found in magazines and papers in the latter part of the 1930's. Throughout the 1940's trick or treat started to get into full swing due to many of the children's books and TV shows. In 1952, Walt Disney permanently burned it into the minds and hearts of America when his cartoon, Trick or Treat debuted. Trick or treat was here to stay.
Trick or treating became more widely practiced throughout the 20th century. In recent years many people have started to have issues with the "trick" bit. The original idea was that if you did not give a "treat" to the trick or treaters they would then play a "trick" on you. While egging house or car windows or papering someone's house or tree could be considered harmless fun, the increase of vandalism for the sake of the "trick" has caused trick or treating to actually be banned in some areas.
Dressing up in a costume for Halloween celebrations and trick or treating is an American invention and probably resulted from the success seen with Christmas products that began in the 1880's. Check out History of Halloween Costumes for more information about how costumes became used in our Halloween celebrations.
These days communities set a certain night for trick or treat. They set a time for it to take place and many will even place an age limit for the trick or treaters.
Trick or treat became a bit dangerous in the late 1980's when a few vicious and mean-spirited people began to embed razor blades, and poisonous drugs into the candy that was given out. This terrible and senseless tragedy has forever changed the fun of trick or treating and as a result people started to find other safer ways to celebrate the holiday. While trick or treat started as great fun for all ages who took part, sadly, it is quite likely that the practice will not last through another hundred years.
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