Robert Brindley

Monday, October 30, 2006

Trick or Treat?

Did you know ’Trick or Treat’, although thought to be an American tradition, actually originated in medieval Europe?.
The central date of the rituals that herald the beginning of winter is the 1st of November, called All Saints Day or All Hallows Day. The following day is All Souls Day and the 31st of October is All Hallows Eve - shortened to Hallowe'en (i.e. the evening before All Hallows Day).
The practice of souling - going from door to door on or about All Souls Day to solicit gifts of food in return for prayers for the dead - evolved from a pagan ritual that was practised all over Europe, possibly as early as the 10th century. As a Christian tradition it goes back to at least the 14th century, when it is mentioned by Chaucer. It is still commonplace in many Catholic countries, notably Ireland, where soul-cakes are left out for the departed.
Scotland, where it is called guising. This is a clear predecessor of trick or treat. The main difference between the two was that the children performed small entertainments before being given gifts - poems, jokes etc. This is now merging into trick or treating, with sweets being expected without the party piece.
The USA, where the tradition is trick or treating. This 20th century tradition has many of the features of the earlier rituals, a knowledge of which were of course brought to the U.S.A. by immigrants from Europe.

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