History of Trick or Treating

History of Trick or Treating

This article is an excerpt of GolfBlogger’s book: Things In The Basement: A History of Halloween Horrors, available on Amazon at the link.

In the mid 19th century, many of the traditions of modern Halloween had fallen into place. Halloween celebrants dressed in costumes and wandered from door to door begging for food or money, echoing a medieval practice known as “Souling.”

Medieval Christians believed that when a person died, they would go to Heaven if they lead a good life, to Hell if they didn’t, and to Purgatory if they were somewhere in between. A family could get the souls of their loved ones out of Purgatory and into Heaven if they said enough prayers for them.

On Hallowmass, the beggars would take advantage of this belief by wandering from house to house offering to say prayers in exchange for food. Small cakes, called “Soul Cakes” often were distributed.

In this custom, we have the origins of the Halloween custom of “Trick or Treating.” In fact, among many older people, trick or treaters still are known as “beggars.”

Trick or treating continued until the late 19th Century, when it was replaced with community Halloween events such as parties and parades. At the same time, a religious revival removed much of the superstitious and gothic horror overtones.

Many of these customs seem to have been revived in the 1920s, when children’s costume parades once again became popular. By the 1950s, with the baby boom and the development of suburban communities, the practice was once again in full swing.

In recent years, the custom of Trick-or-Treating has been darkened by the specter of poisoned treats. Wild media reports – even from the normally clear-headed Ann Landers have warned of razor blades in candy bars and arsenic in pixie sticks.

But reputable studies have shown that these reports are only myths. In fact, the entire urban legend can be traced back to one incident: In 1974, a father poisoned his own son with cyanide, and then attempted to cover his crime by lacing candy in the child’s bag with the poison. The candy was not handed out to the neighborhood kids.

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