The phrase “Trick or Treat” is synonymous with Halloween and the act of Trick-or-treating is something I and many Americans were brought up on. It is customary for children on Halloween to dress in costumes traveling from house to house in order to ask for “treats” such as candy or other small gifts, saying the phrase “Trick or treat!” the “trick” most of the time is a harmless threat to perform mischief on the homeowner or their property if no treat is given to them. Here I would like to explore the history of Trick or Treating in America, giving you facts and some insight, and hopefully not boring you to death.
In two months time kids will be at our doorsteps begging for candy! Historians and experts alike can not pinpoint when trick or treating started in America, but it was some time during the late 1920’s, which makes Halloween less than a century old. It’s true origins date back much further and we can not talk about trick or treating in America without traditions Europeans brought over with them from their home countries. Some examples in places like Great Britain “Souling” took place in which beggars celebrated ALL SOULS’ DAY by going house to house offering up small prayers and carols in exchange for food. An Irish custom of “MUCK OLLA” in which groups demand tribute to Muck Olla a legendary boar. Even as far back as the Celtic mythology, in which tales of supernatural beings demanding a tribute of food and drink on Samhain (Celtic precursor to Halloween); the list can go on and on with customs all over the world. There is still so much that is unclear about this holiday and its traditions, which generate ever changing interpretations of trick or treating in America.
Timeline of trick or treating:
- 1927 Earliest known printed term was in the Blackie, Alberta Canada Herald
- 1930’s Trick-or-treating becomes a widespread practice
- 1947 Trick-or-Treating received national attention in issues of the children’s magazines Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities
- 1951 Trick-or-treating was depicted in the Peanuts comic strip
- 1952 Walt Disney portrayed it in the cartoon Trick or Treat, and Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their television show
- 1953 UNICEF first conducted a national campaign for children to raise funds for the charity while trick-or-treating.
- 1990’s Trunk-or-Treat” on Halloween night or on occasion, a day immediately after where trick-or-treating is done from parked cars in a local parking lots, often at a school or church.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Halloween was celebrated mainly by Adults, who threw parties involving fortune telling, games and certain types of foods. It was children during this time who mainly celebrated by pranking and it wasn’t till the so called “Black Halloween” in 1933 when major cities in America experienced unprecedented amounts of damage that would change Halloween forever.This behavior children displayed during Halloween, paved the way for towns to started organizing Halloween events for kids, such as costume parties, haunted houses and begging from house to house, now known to us as “Trick or Treating”.
There is so much we don’t know about the origins of trick or treating here in America, even for someone like me who has read and researched countless hours on this topic. What I do know is this holiday has been ever changing and evolving into each American’s time period. Talk to people from different states and you just might find customs you have never heard of, this is what makes this such a great time of year. We celebrate it with our own beliefs in mind this is what separates it from the rest of the holidays. One thing for sure about Halloween is that it is very much unique to America not matter how many influences from around the world it has.
Cool insight and history brought to you by the people at History.com
Some books or videos on the topic of Trick or Treating:
- Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, By Lisa Morton
- Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History, By Lesley Bannatyne
- Trick or Treat: A Collection of Halloween Trivia: Everything you wanted to know about Halloween, by Christopher Forest
- The Haunted History of Halloween by History Channel
Other Halloween trivia:
- Orange and black are Halloween colors because orange is associated with the Fall harvest and black is associated with darkness and death.
- Tootsie Rolls were the first wrapped penny candy in America.
- Halloween candy sales average about 2 billion dollars annually in the U.S.
- Halloween is the 2nd most commercially successful holiday, Christmas is 1st.
- Black cats were once believed to be witch’s familiars who protected their powers.
- The fear of Halloween is known as Samhainopobia.