How did “Trick or Treating” begin? Who ever thought of children going from door to door extorting a treat from the householder to guarantee that no prank be played? Sounds a bit like the protection money extorted by the mob doesn’t it?
The roots of “Trick or Treating,” are far older and more meaningful than any of today’s young pranksters are aware of. In many cultures it is believed that on certain days of the year, the spirits of the dead return to their homes. It was common practice to leave gifts of food for them to placate them and keep them from damage. In ancient Celtic times, this was the festival of Samhain, (pronounced sowain), a time when the departed were celebrated and revered. The literal translation of Samhain is “Summers End.” Summer was over, the harvest was in and to prevent departed family members from becoming bumptious it was necessary to share some of that bounty with them. Alters were built in the homes where images of the dead were placed along with gifts of food, wine, tobacco and the like. With the advent of Christianity Samhain gradually became “All Soul’s Day.”
The poor of the community took this as an opportunity to go from door to door begging that a bit of the harvest bounty be shared. They often disguised themselves as spirits in the hope that the householders would believe them to be their departed family members and thus be more willing to give them a handout. Some would offer to pray for the souls of the departed in exchange for a small gift of food. This was called, “Going a Souling.”
Eventually, this practice faded away to be replaced by children going from door to door. Householders often baked small cakes called “Soul_Cakes” to be handed out when the children came to the door. When the children went “Soulcaking,” they often chanted:
“Soul Cake, Soul Cake, I pray, good misses a soul-cake;
An apple or pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry,
One for Peter, two for Paul, Three for Him who made us all...
The custom was brought to America with European immigrants where it gradually became known as “Trick or Treat,” where the kids far more actively threatened to perform pranks if a treat was not forthcoming. In some areas the kids would chant,
“Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.”
When I was a kid, we always carried a bar of soap with us, to soap the windows of anyone who didn’t give us a treat. We never got to use the soap.
The practice of Soulcaking gradually died out in Europe but as we all know, it is alive and well in the U.S. as Trick or Treating,” though I doubt you would be able to find a single kid who would be able to tell you it’s origins, or even what “Trickertreat,” (usually said all in one word,) means.
There is a lot of concern these days about the safety of Trick or Treating. Yes, there has been the occasional incident of householders handing out inappropriate or even dangerous “treats,” to the kids. This has prompted a movement of parents not allowing their kids to eat anything that isn’t commercially manufactured and wrapped, (oh how fortunate for the junk candy manufactures of the country.)
I am fortunate enough to live in a smallish community where everyone knows everyone and parents have no qualms about allowing their kids to eat the homemade treats that I give out.
If you like me, do not want to buy into the commercial candy thing, yet are afraid that your home made goodies may be tossed out, you might do what one neighbor of mine does; she makes her home made goodies and ties them up in plastic wrap with a slip of paper with her name, address and phone number on it. It isn’t very likely that someone handing out inappropriate or dangerous things would announce how to contact them.
When push come to shove, and I have this from the community outreach officer of our police department, for Trick or Treat safety, DON”T BE GREEDY! Don’t let your kids Trick or Treat outside your own neighborhood. Don’t bundle them into the car and drive them from neighborhood to neighborhood.
Anyway, for those of you living in circumstances where homemade treats are appropriate for your visiting tricksters, I have posted the following Halloween treat ideas.
Quick and Easy Carmel Apples
Mini Pumpkin Muffins
Pumpkin, Nut, Chocolate Chip Cookies
Old Fashion Candy Apples
Harry Potter's Pumpkin Pasties
Decorated Halloween Cookies