Many of us love giving out candy to kids on Halloween, but have you ever wondered why we do this in the first place? The history of trick-or-treating is a fascinating one, to say the least. Let's just say that the trick-or-treating history didn't exactly kick off with people handing out Hershey's or Reese's willy-nilly to whomever dropped by their homes.
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The modern-day tradition of American Halloween stems from an ancient Irish tradition called Samhaim, according to the National Endowment for the Humanities. Celebrated during the final harvests of the year, the Celts marked the day as one of their most important festivals. Meaning "summer's end," Samhaim celebrated the link between seasonal and life cycles — with elements of magic and mystery included (sound familiar?).
Samhaim was a pagan festival, so it was replaced in the 8th century by Catholic traditions, including new religious-themed holidays like All Saints Day, Allhallows Eve, and All Soul's Day. But after a few centuries passed, old customs — like asking neighbors for cake —began to make a comeback in Europe, just in a religious context this time.
Believe it or not, kids used to be required to sing for their supper (err... we mean their sweets). These songs were supposed to be sung on behalf of the dead, and the little ones went from door to door to sing to anyone who would listen. These folks gave them "soul cakes" — round cakes with crosses on the top — in return.
Trick-or-treating as we know it today slowly evolved in the United States as European immigrants moved to the country in waves in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. The first description of the words “trick or treat” actually appeared in a Canadian text in 1927: “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.” (Don’t worry, the tone here was intended to be a playful one!)
Though the tradition was basically paused during the Great Depression and World War II, it finally resurfaced again after the war was over. Candy was much more popular around this time than soul cakes, so kids began to receive those sweets instead. So unless soul cakes make a comeback, you can probably expect to continue giving out candy for years to come. But don't expect any young people to sing to you before you dole it out!
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