We are all familiar with the current Halloween celebration which is a scary extravaganza of haunted houses, gruseome fancy dress, trick or treating and pumpking carving. It is a common misconception that Halloween hails from the States but actually its roots are much closer to home…
Halloween originated from an ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain. The festival Samhain celebrates the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture. The ancient pagans used this time to take stock of supplies and prepare for winter.
The belief held by the Gaels was that October 31st was the date when the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped, causing the dead to come back to life and cause trouble for the farmers by damaging crops and infecting them with sickness.
Bonfires were lit at the original celebrations to attract bats to the area. Masks and costumes were worn to keep the evil spirits happy.
However, the practise of ‘Trick or Treating’ is a later addition to the modern celebration. It is believed to have developed from a practise of ‘Souling’ which was practised in Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages. Souling involved poor folk knocking on doors in the neighbourhood, to ask for food in return for praying for the dead on All Souls Day which fell on November 2nd.
The earliest known ritual of this type of begging on Halloween night occured in North America in 1911. "Trick or Treating" was not referenced in print until the late 1930’s. It was first referenced in public print in 1939.
During WW1 and WW2, Trick or Treating was stalled by sugar rationing, until 1947. The custom then became firmly established into Halloween culture in 1952, by the late, great, Walt Disney, who featured the modern practise of "Trick or Treating" in his Trick or Treat cartoon.
The most significant growth and also resistance to the Trick or Treat movement is in the UK. The police have threatened to prosecute parents who allow their children to carry out the "trick" element.