The Origin of Trick or Treating

How the Halloween holiday tradition came to be

Viviana Serrano, Contributor

     One night a year, October 31st, kids of all ages run around neighborhoods unsupervised taking candy from strangers. Most children and adults all agree that trick or treating on Halloween is one of the most fun events of the year, but how did this tradition start? Trick or treating goes all the way back to Roman Catholics, ancient Celts, and even early British politics. 

    Halloween is a tradition that’s been around for over 100 years. The holiday can be traced back to the ancient Celts, who believed that the dead would return on one day, Samhain. People would light bonfires, offer sacrifices, and dress in costumes to keep the spirits away. Over the years, people started to dress as ghosts and other evil creatures and perform for food and drinks. It was known as mumming, which could potentially be an early form of trick or treating. 

     Centuries later Christianity was spreading, and November 2 was a holiday called All Soul’s Day, which was a day to honor the dead.  The celebration was like Samhain, and families living in poverty would visit wealthier people to get soul cakes. They were desserts the people would collect in a practice called “souling” as compensation for a promise to pray for the wealthier families’ dead relatives. Children started to take up the tradition and go to houses asking for food, ale, or money. 

     Some of the American colonists celebrated a holiday known as Guy Fawkes Day, a holiday celebrated after Fawkes’s execution where bonfires were lit to burn symbolic bones of the Pope. In the 19th century, children would carry models of Guy Fawkes at night on November 5 and ask for “a penny for the Guy.” This made Halloween a popular holiday within the colonies, and pranks became an activity young people would participate in. 

    During the Great Depression, Halloween pranks turned into vandalism and violence, which eventually led to organized trick or treating. However, trick or treating was postponed during World War 2 when there were only a few treats to hand out. Postwar, trick or treating resumed, and now millions of kids were participating in the event every year. Halloween is now the second most celebrated holiday in the U.S, and Americans spend approximately $2.6 billion on candy to hand out for trick or treaters. This tradition has evolved tremendously over the centuries but is ultimately a fun to bond with neighbors and get tons of sugary treats.