The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture. Samhain was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and prepare for winter.
The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.
The festival would frequently involve bonfires. It is believed that the fires attracted insects to the area, which attracted bats to the area.
Masks and consumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or appease them.
In Ohio, Iowa, and Massachusetts, the night designated for Trick-or-treating is often referred to as Beggars Night.
Trick or Treat
The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages, and includes Christmas wassailing.
Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of "souling," when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2).
It originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering, whining], like a beggar at Hallowmas."
The earliest known reference to ritual begging on Halloween in English speaking North America occurs in 1911, when a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario, reported that it was normal for the smaller children to go street guising (see below) on Halloween between 6 and 7 p.m., visiting shops and neighbors to be rewarded with nuts and candies for their rhymes and songs.
Early national attention to trick-or-treating was given in October 1947 issues of the children's magazines “Jack and Jill” and “Children's Activities”, and by Halloween episodes of the network radio programs “The Baby Snooks Show” in 1946 and “The Jack Benny Show” and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” in 1948. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney portrayed it in the cartoon “Trick or Treat” and UNICEF first conducted a national campaign for children to raise funds for the charity while trick-or-treating.
It must have been a fairly poor year in our household for this fall celebration. A ripped shirt, pants that were too short, a plastic mask and a straw hat my parents had brought back from a convention they attended down in Florida.
If I had answered the door and seen this, I would be fearful too. I’d give any amount of candy to rid myself of this creature on my porch.
My mother used to say I like the season of Halloween more than any other holiday, but I don’t remember it that way.
What I do remember is in high school and even in college; I turned the table around on the holiday in a rebellious activity called “Treat-or-Trick”.
Gather a group of people, fill grocery bags with candy, go to a neighbor’s house, ring the bell, and when they open the door, announce yourself by a cry of “Treat-or-Trick” and hand the surprised occupant candy from your bag. Offer a quick smile and brief happy song then walk away with a wave.
While this seems a silly action on a night for children, it does give a new meaning to the holiday tradition and a variance to the ritual of handing out candy to obese greedy rug-rats.
*Note: The only problem with this “Treat-to-Trick” process is that the homeowners expecting small children coming to their door in an innocent family tradition only to find adults handing out questionable treats usually call the police, so the activity will only last for a few houses.