Many of us have uttered those words or ones like them since we were old enough to wear a costume. Some say cute little rhymes at each house they visit. But, what is the origin of our current candy grabbing tradition on Halloween?
Trick or treating goes back to the celebration of Samhain by the Celts on the British Isles. This pagan festival was one that celebrated nature and its gifts. The practitioners also believed that on that night the boundaries between the living and the dead were compromised and spirits could once again walk the earth.
In an effort to appease the spirits, people would leave offerings of food and drink on their doorsteps. These rituals were thought to protect their harvests for another year. This was also the time for a practice called “souling.”
Souling involved food in exchange for prayers. During the celebration, poor people would take to begging for food from neighbors. This food was granted in exchange for prayers by the receivers for the souls of dead family members.
As the tradition was passed down, the begging became food left for these poor individuals who would continue to pray for the dead. Eventually, children were sent from house to house to receive food or bits of money for the family.
In some countries, the wearing of masks and receiving of gifts is still called “souling.” Small food items or money are still received by children. Trick or treating is a thoroughly modern and American tradition.
When it first started, trick or treating was just that. If a homeowner didn’t provide treats, the costumed person would perform some trick. This could be playing a prank on them or egging the house. In some countries, this is a part of the mischief of the spirits. Any spirit that didn’t receive food was also likely to do something to the person of the house.
Now, kids go from house to house, saying this phrase and receiving a ton of sweet treats. People travel from neighborhood to neighborhood for sweet fare. Tricks are more a part of the fun of the night than a slight against any one person. If a neighbor is not participating, they turn out their porch light so children will know not to approach.
Of course there are those mischief makers that egg houses and cars, but most neighborhoods celebrate Halloween without incident. Even the adults get involved in the celebration with fog machines and costume parties.