Featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
At the end of every October, streets come alive with pint-sized ghosts, mini monsters, and kiddo-caped crusaders, all chanting the familiar “trick or treat” over and over. But have you ever paused, mid-chocolate bite, to ask where the whole “give me candy or else” chant comes from?
Long before Halloween became a holiday full of candy, the Celts knew it as Samhain, a night when ghosts popped by for a visit. To honor the dead, the Celts lit bonfires (not jack-o’-lanterns) and traded sweets and savory foods as peace offerings for the spectral visitors.
Long Before Candy Corn, There Were Quirkier Treats
During these Samhain festivities, participants would originally wear animal skin costumes hoping to repel any spirits with ill intentions. But as centuries went by, that morphed into more eerie costumes—ghouls, demons, and all things that go bump in the night.
Over time, the tradition was adopted by others as well. After Christianity declared November 2nd as All Souls’ Day, a rather dark day to honor the dead waiting in Purgatory, people started “souling” or going door to door asking for treats known as soul cakes. This was particularly common in the early 16th century, when the poor went souling on All Souls’ Day as a way to get extra food.
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A similar tradition in Scotland and Ireland (known as “guising”) saw costumed children visiting homes and singing songs in exchange for food or money.
So while kids weren’t actually yelling “trick or treat” at strangers’ doors just yet, the practice of asking for treats goes back hundreds of years.
“Trick or Treat” Didn’t Always Roll Off The Tongue
Historical records suggest that the term “trick or treat” might have first echoed in the crisp air of Canada in the early 20th century. By the 1920s, it had made its mark in the US, where youngsters playfully threatened mischief if not given treats.
The first written record of “trick or treat” seems to date back to 1923, when a Saskatchewan newspaper printed the following words: “Hallowe’en passed off very quietly here. Treats not tricks were the order of the evening.”
Reel Scares, Real Sweets
After World War II, the spread of sub-urbanization made it easier for kids to go door to door in search of sweets.
Before your favorite Halloween movie marathon, Donald Duck and Charlie Brown were the trendsetters of treat-hunting! But perhaps the bigger step in cementing the phrase “trick or treat” in American popular culture came in the 1950s with Disney’s cartoon “Trick or Treat” which showcased the adventures of Donald Duck and his nephews, as well as Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters enjoying Halloween festivities in a 1951 comic strip.
So, as October’s twilight draws near and the first cries of “trick or treat” ring through the air, remember: behind every chocolate bar and every spooky costume lies a tale as rich and layered as a Halloween caramel apple!
By Diana Bocco, contributor for Ripleys.com
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Author: Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: https://www.ripleys.com/weird-news/feed/