There are many theories about origins of trick-or-treating, but the widely accepted version is that the practice of going door to door originated in ninth-century Europe. At first it was called “souling” and would occur on All Soul’s Day. Christians would walk from town to town asking for square biscuits with currants, called “soul cakes.” The beggars would promise to offer prayers for the giver’s dead relatives in purgatory. The generosity of the donor affected the number of prayers the beggars would give.
In Scotland and Ireland, trick-or-treating was originally called “guising” since children went from house to house in disguise. The children would receive food or money as they went door to door. The earliest recorded mention of guising in Scotland was in 1895, now though, it has become common among Scots and Irish to use “trick-or-treat” instead.
In North America, trick-or-treating was not a country-wide tradition until the early 1950s. The term “trick-or-treat” wasn’t seen until around that time as well. It started to become a Halloween tradition in the years leading up to World War II. However, with the sugar rationing during the war it stopped, only to be taken up again in the early 1950s.
And the rest, as they say, is history!
Random Trick-or-Treat Facts:
- The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there will be 41 million trick-or-treaters ages 5 to 14 in America this year . Parents are expected to spend $1 billion on children’s costumes—and if they’re on trend, most of the cash will go towards princess, witch, pirate or Spider-Man get-ups.
- In 1950, Philadelphia-based trick-or-treaters traded in a sweet tooth for a sweet action. In lieu of candy, residents collected change for children overseas and sent it to UNICEF. Subsequently, the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF program was born.
- It was just tricks—no treats—for Charlie Brown in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. In the 1966 TV special, he utters, “I got a rock,” while trick-or-treating. The phrase went on to become one of the most famous lines in Peanuts history.
- Due to safety concerns, trunk-or-treating was introduced in 2000 as an alternative to hitting the pavement for candy on Halloween night. Cars are parked in a circle at a school or church parking lot, with event-goers decorating their open trunks and dressing in costume in order to hand out treats.
- In 2010, Belleville, Illinois, became the latest city to ban trick-or-treating for kids over 12. Teens can face fines from $100 to $1,000 for going door-to-door (although according to officials, more often than not, over-age Halloween-goers are just given a warning).
- The best place for trick-or-treating in America? Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn., according to a 2011 index of Halloween hauls.
- A quarter of all U.S. candy sales each year occur around Halloween. This year’s top seller: Snickers.
Charles Panati, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, New York: Harper, 1989, 64.
“Parade,” October 28, 2012, 4.