Time to bring those jack-o’-lanterns out of the box—Halloween season is finally here! It’s that time of the year again where kids dress up in spooky costumes and adults go crazy over how cute they are. It’s trick-or-treat season, and if you’re one of those who wonder every time why it is even a thing, then you’re in for a treat. Read on and find out the tricks that led to this famous tradition during Halloween.
The history of trick-or-treating dates back a hundred years ago, where children in costumes go from house to house asking for treats such as candies or, in some countries, money or food. There are various reports of trick or treat from the Middle Ages, but in theory, the practice stemmed and was popularized from the Celtic celebration called Samhain.
Originally celebrated from the sunset of October 31 and lasting until the sunset of November 1, Samhain is a festival marking the end of harvest season and the beginning of winter. The Celts believed that the dead and the living overlap during this time and that demons roam free on earth. As a defense mechanism, people back then dressed up as ghosts or demons to drive the evil spirits away. Another tradition during Samhain was leaving food or wine on doorsteps and preparing banquets to appease unwelcome spirits.
During the ninth century, however, Samhain was replaced by All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day as the Catholic Church’s attempt to stamp out the old Celtic traditions. The act of dressing up as saints, angels, or demons during the night of October 31 was then adapted and popularized among many countries all over the world. Honoring the dead during these times comes in the form of masquerades, bonfires, and, most specially, the practice of souling.
Souling is an old tradition stemming from British and Irish culture. During All Soul’s Day, the poor visit the houses of wealthy families, asking for food in exchange for prayers for the dead. In the later years, this practice was taken up by children dressed up in scary costumes, knocking on doors, asking for money, food, or sweets. In return, they treat homeowners by singing a song, reciting a poem, or telling jokes.
In the nineteenth century, the phrase “Trick or treat?” actually was literal as homeowners chose from giving children a treat or running the risk of facing some nasty tricks prepared for them.
In Mexico, instead of saying “Trick or treat?” in the Spanish language, children say “¿Me da mi calaverita?” which translates to “Can you give me my little skull?” These little skulls or calaverita are actually sweets made from sugar or chocolates. Calaverita are often prepared on the Mexican celebration of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) and on the Roman Catholic holiday of All Souls’ Day.
The practice of trick-or-treating stemmed from a very old tradition, yet it has become one of the most celebrated practices worldwide. In the United States alone, around thirty-five million children between five and thirteen years old go trick-or-treating every year. About 50 percent of adults in the United States dress up for Halloween, and about 67 percent attend a Halloween party or go trick-or-treating with their children.
Needless to say, Halloween is one of the most commercially successful holidays worldwide, second only to Christmas. It’s an ageless practice as you do not have to be a child to appreciate Halloween. It’s 2017 anyway, and like it or not, we are far from the limited choices of dressing up just as demons and ghosts. Be creative; dress up as Wonder Woman or Thor or whichever hero you think would make the evil spirits falter on their knees, and have a fun time warding off those evil spirits!
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