Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I have such wonderful memories of my childhood and the fun of Trick or Treating. It is truly sad to hear of the decline of this annual practice. Enjoy a little wikihistory on this cherished childhood event!
Trick-or-treating is a custom for children on Halloween. Children proceed in costume from house to house, asking for treats such as confectionery, or sometimes money, with the question, "Trick or treat?" The "trick" is an idle threat to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given.
In the United States, trick-or-treating is now one of the main traditions of Halloween and it has become socially expected that if one lives in a neighborhood with children one should purchase treats in preparation for trick-or-treaters. The National Confectioners Association reported in 2005 that 80 percent of adults in the United States planned to give out confectionery to trick-or-treaters, and that 93 percent of children planned to go trick-or-treating. The tradition of going from door to door receiving food already existed in Britain and Ireland, in the form of souling, where children and poor people would sing and say prayers for the dead in return for cakes. The North American Halloween custom of saying "trick or treat" has become more common. The activity is popular in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, Central America, South America, Western Europe and Scandinavia, but over the recent years has become popular in Australia and New Zealand.
The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays dates back to the Middle Ages and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland and Britain. although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering or whining] like a beggar at Hallowmas." The custom of wearing costumes and masks at Halloween goes back to Celtic traditions of attempting to copy the evil spirits or placate them, In Scotland for instance where the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white.
However, there is no evidence that souling was ever practiced in North America, where trick-or-treating may have developed independent of any Irish or British antecedent. Ruth Edna Kelley, in her 1919 history of the holiday, The Book of Hallowe'en, makes no mention of ritual begging in the chapter "Hallowe'en in America." Kelley lived in Lynn, Massachusetts, a town with about 4,500 Irish immigrants, 1,900 English immigrants, and 700 Scottish immigrants in 1920. The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show children but do not depict trick-or-treating. Trick-or-treating does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930s, with the first U.S. appearances of the term in 1934, and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939.