Halloween and ‘Trick or Treating’.
According to a survey carried out in 2006, half of the UK population will turn out their lights and pretend to be out on the last night of October; otherwise known as Halloween. Why, because of the practise of ‘Trick or Treating’. This is where youngsters dress up and go around knocking on doors ‘demanding’ a treat.
But before we get into the whole ‘trick-or-treat’ origin, let’s start from the very beginning and Halloween.
One misconception is that it’s an American phenomenon. However, its origins are partially linked with the Roman Feralia festival of commemorating the dead, the Roman Pamoan Festival of honouring the God of ‘fruit and trees’ but is more strongly associated with the Celtic Festival Samuin which means ‘summer end’.
The Celts believed that, as we moved from one year to the next, the dead and the living would overlap, and demons would roam the earth again. By dressing up as a ghost if you were to encounter a real demon, the fact that you were in disguise, meant that you would be left alone.
The problem was, the Samuin was deemed to be a pagan festival and so it was replaced by Christian Missionaries in the eighth century by more Catholic traditions. This meant it had to be religious-themed holiday such as All Saints’ Day, All Souls Day and All Hallows’ Eve or Hallowe’en.
Trick or Treat
The act of asking for a treat, or “guising” (from “disguising”) traditionally started in the Middle-Ages. Children, and some poorer adults, would dress up and go around door to door during Hallowmas begging for food or money. In return they would sing or say a prayer, often for the benefit of a dead relative. This was called “souling” and the children were called “soulers”. Their treat was a ‘soul cake’ that was baked specifically for the festival that had been marked with the symbol of a cross.
The actual term “trick or treat” can be dated to November 4th 1927. This is when the expression first appeared in the Alberta Canada Herald where an article talked about Hallowe’en being an ‘….opportunity for real strenuous fun’ appeared and talks about how ‘….the youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat”.
During the Great Depression and throughout World War II the practise stopped but was resumed once the War was over. Soul cakes were simply replaced by sweets and the act of singing or saying a prayer died away. But it is still a festival enjoyed by millions of children worldwide but, according to the survey of 2006, is one to be avoided by 50 percent of the UK adults.