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Trick or Treat History

If you’re young and hungry for those sweets, obviously the best way to get them is to go trick-or-treating

But, have you ever wondered who created this prestigious celebration, and who decided to add trick-or-treat to the mix. Here is the history of trick or treat.

Trick or Treat History

Halloween derives from the three-day Celtic festival Samhain. The Celts believed the dead would return on Earth at the end of the harvest season (Oct. 31) and decided to honor them. The “villagers disguised themselves in costumes made of animal skins to drive away phantom visitors; banquet tables were prepared and edible offerings were out to placate unwelcome spirits,” states The History Channel. Celts knew how to throw the ultimate Halloween bash.

Trick or Treat history went by many names

The first appearance of trick-or-treating had people dressing up in exchange for food and drinks which was known as “mumming” in the Middle Ages. However, in the 9th century, the term changed to “souling” for All Souls’ Day every year on Nov. 2.

According to Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, “souling” was when poor people visited wealthy families’ homes and received pastries like ‘soul cakes’ in exchange for prayers and songs. “The idea being that, if you prayed hard enough, you would help them get to heaven,” the author Nicholas Rogers told CBC News.

The term “guising” became popular in Ireland and Scotland in the 16th century. Young people had to perform a song, recite a poem, tell a joke or other ‘tricks’ in order to receive their treats. But overall, many of these exchanges were paying homage to the dead.

So essentially, the people in the past had to work for free food and gifts. Honestly, children today can’t complain anymore about receiving Tootsie Rolls in their bag.

So How did Trick or Treat become so popular?

In the mid 19th century, the American colonists and immigrants popularized Halloween. The Irish and Scottish brought their old traditions of ‘souling’ and ‘guising’ to the United States.

But according to Today I Found Out, the phrase “trick-or-treat” dates back to Nov. 4, 1927 from a Canadian newspaper Herald story: “The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.”

The United States didn’t start using the terms until the 1930s. However, according to, by the 1950s, the practice of trick-or-treating was shown in popular culture in shows like Ozzie and Harriet and in print like a Peanuts comic strip.

Trick or Treat history bonus facts

  • In parts of Mexico, rather than saying the Spanish equivalent of “trick or treat”, “dulce o travesura” (literally “candy or mischief”), it is common to say ¿Me da mi calaverita? (“Can you give me my little skull?”)
  • During Samuin, it was also traditional to leave a place and food at the table for deceased loved ones temporarily returned from the grave.
  • The word Halloween originally came from the Middle English ‘Alholowmesse’, meaning “All Saints’ Day”.  The night before Alholowmesse was called “All Hallows Even (evening)” which was eventually shortened to “Hallowe’en” until it just became “Halloween” in the 20th century.
  • In North America alone around $3 billion is spent on Halloween costumes.
  • Haunted house attractions bring in about half a billion dollars annually.
  • Halloween candy sales average around $2 billion per year in the United States.  Chocolate candy bars are consistently ratedas the #1 treat to get, with the Snickers candy bar being most preferred.  In addition, Reese’s peanut butter cups and candy corn are among the most sold Halloween candy items.
  • Over 35 million Halloween cards are given every year, producing close to a gross of $100 million.
  • As you might have guessed from these numbers, Halloween is the second most commercially successful holiday world-wide after Christmas.
  • Around 35 million children in the U.S. between 5 and 13 years old go trick or treating every year, which is around 90% of all children in that age group.
  • Around 50% of adults in the U.S. will dress up for Halloween and about 67% will attend a Halloween party or go trick or treating with their children.

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