Saturday, October 8, 2011


Hello all! Well, it's been a month since I've last posted, and I feel bad that I let this happen. Things got in the way. Life... got in the way. But I have been blessed to have more writing projects come to me, and I have been busy in other ways, too. 

I wasn't sure what to come back with until it hit me one day. It's getting close to Halloween, my favorite time of the year, so why not do a post about Halloween. This is also going to be about the history and origins of trick or treating because there are so many wonderful memories of this for me. 

So here we go. It's like riding a bicycle. You never forget, you only have to keep your balance. :)


October 31. It's Halloween. What you and I think of as Halloween wasn't always around. In fact, Halloween was originally called All-Hallows-Even in 16th century Scotland. The word became shortened over many years into the current Halloween. 

The Celtic festival of Samhain can be connected to Halloween. Samhain marked the end of the harvest. It's also been explained to mark the end of the lighter part of the year, leading into the darker, and in this way it can be regarded as a new year celebration. Samhain can be traced back to medieval Ireland in the 10th century.

All Saints falls on the following day, November 1. The definition for All Saints varies within religions. For instance, for Western Christians, it signifies a day of commemoration for all who have attained beatific vision in Heaven, yet for Roman Catholics, it is for the faithful who have passed on but have not been purified or reached Heaven. It is thought that the Roman Catholic church was trying to do away with Samhain, and therefore began All Saints to take the attention from Samhain. Needless to say, it didn't work.

For Wiccans, Samhain is a celebration started at sundown, where some will celebrate those who are deceased. Some rituals involve inviting the dead to join them in the festivities. Samhain is considered a festival of darkness for Wiccans, and would be an opposite to their spring festival of Beltane, which celebrates light and fertility.

Samhain is considered in the Gaelic culture to be the time of the year when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead would be at their thinnest, allowing the dead to come back into our world and cause mischief. This reasoning was attributed to sickness or diseased crops.

The use of costumes were employed in order to trick the spirits of the dead. If a person looked like they did, the spirits would purportedly leave them alone and continue on to wreak havoc somewhere else. Food was sometimes left outside of their doors that night to draw in the good spirits, while the others who had dressed up would go through the towns and villages making much noise in order to scare the bad spirits away.

The familiar jack o' lantern was originally carved from turnips in Ireland and Scotland. In America, pumpkins were more abundant and larger, making it easier to carve. Making a jack o' lantern can be traced to 1837, but was connected to the harvest. It became associated with Halloween around the mid 19th century. 

Souling was a practice made for All Saints Day in order to celebrate the dead, where children and the poor would go from door to door, singing and requesting a soul cake. These cakes were filled with sweet spices, raisins or currants, and topped with the mark of a cross. Glasses of wine were also set out with the cakes. The children would call out in song and say prayers for the dead. Each cake eaten would be symbolic of a soul being freed from Purgatory.

There is a Peter, Paul and Mary song from 1963 which speaks of this tradition:

Soul, Soul, a soul cake!
I pray thee, good missus, a soul cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
three for Him what made us all!
Soul Cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry, any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul, & three for Him who made us all.

Souling was thought to be the practice from which modern day trick or treating evolved from. Another early practice similar to trick or treating is guising. This was recorded in Scotland in 1895 at Halloween, and included people dressed up in costume carrying turnips that had been scooped out and used as lanterns, going from home to home receiving cakes, fruit and money. 

Guising in America can be traced back to 1911, 1915, and in Chicago in 1920. The phrase "trick or treat" was written about in 1934. Trick or treating, as we know, appears to have become widespread in America during the 1930s. 


In October 1947, the children's magazines Jack and Jill, and Children's Activities, spoke of trick or treating. The Peanuts comic strip mentioned it in 1951. In 1952, Walt Disney released the cartoon Trick or Treat, and the surge went forward from there.

When I was a child trick or treating in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a brief scare surrounding the activity. Fear of items being introduced into candy such as razor blades, poisons, and needles became a serious concern. Nationwide the alarm was sounded, and the once innocent act of trick or treating became cloaked in parental fear. Kids were no longer allowed to eat their candy straight from the bag, but instead brought it home to be inspected first. Some hospitals offered free x-ray services as a means of precaution.

Halloween has always held a special place in my heart, and I'm sure it always will. I hope you enjoyed reading a little of the fascinating history surrounding this holiday. There were many points that I did not write about, so if you know of anything to add, please feel free to leave them in the comments, or simply tell me if you like Halloween as much as I do!

Information in this post was found at various locations such as: Wikipedia,,,,, and

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