Halloween Series Part 3: Trick-or-Treat!

One of the most exciting aspects of Halloween for children is Trick-or-Treating. Picking out a costume is a lot of fun. I remember as a child, l went several years as a witch, a clown and a lady from the 1800s. My brother went a few times as a Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtle. My mother made the costume for him out of green, brown and yellow shirts. We loved dressing up and we would wear our costumes throughout the month.

Going door to door to get candy was a lot of fun too. I remember planning routes so I could hit as many houses as possible with my friends. One year I had to come home twice to empty my bucket and I remember sitting on the floor afterwards, with a Disney Halloween special on TV, sorting my candy.

But have you ever wondered where these traditions come from?

Trick-or-Treating has its roots in the Middle Ages.

In ancient Scotland, the Celts would dress up and go ‘guising’ during Samhain to disguise themselves from evil spirits. Children would go door to door and sing, recite poems, tell jokes and dance to receive treats such as apples, nuts or sweets.

The Catholics of Ireland and Britain observed All Saint’s Day, a day to honour all unnamed saints and martyrs.  Children and the poor would go ‘souling’ – walking door to door and offering prayers for the dead in exchange for ‘soul cakes’. These little cakes were filled with either sweet spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, or raisins and currants.

In Mexico, during the Day of the Dead celebrations, children walk door to door in a tradition called Calaverita which is Spanish for ‘little skull’. Instead of ‘trick-or-treat’ the children ask ‘can you give me my little skull?’ The skull shaped treats, or calavera, are made out of sugar or chocolate.

The custom of walking door to door for treats in North America dates back to about the 1940s, though the origin of the phrase “Trick-or-Treat” is unknown. In Europe, the trick was often thought of as something the child would perform to get a treat –  a song or poem, a prayer. However, here in North America, it is generally considered as a prank played in retaliation for not receiving a treat. Due to the commercialization of Halloween, Trick-or-Treating has become more about the treat than the tricks.

If you go out guising this year, I hope you have a wonderful time!

I’ll leave you with the trick I loved to sing to get my treat.

Smell my feet
Give me something good to eat
Not too big
Not too small
Just the size of Montréal