Trick or Treat: You Love It … But Do You Know What It Means?

Just a thought: Do you really know the history of Trick or Treat, what it means, and where it originated?

A lot of people adopt certain traditions because it’s fun do and they enjoy the activity.

So for those who love Halloween and dressing up like Vampires and Ghosts and Zombies and Werewolves, here’s a little background about Halloween and Trick or Treat which is a famous activity for kids and even adults.

Trick-or-treating has been a traditional practice for children on Halloween in many countries. In North America, trick or treat has been a customary Halloween tradition since at least the late 1950s.

On this day, the Halloween, children wearing costumes (most of them “scary” costumes) visit houses in their neighborhoods to ask for treats such as candy (in some cultures, money). As these children knock on the doors, they ask the question “Trick or treat?”. The “trick” is a threat (an inoperative threat) to carry out naughtiness on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given.

The practice of going from door to door receiving food already existed in Great Britain and Ireland in the form of “souling”, where children and poor people would sing and say prayers for the dead in return for cakes. A Soul cake is a small round cake which is traditionally made for All Saints Day or All Souls’ Day to celebrate the dead. The cakes, often simply referred to as souls, were given out to “soulers” (mainly consisting of children and the poor) who would go from door to door on Hallowmas singing and saying prayers for the dead. Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory. The practice of giving and eating soul cakes is often seen as the origin of modern Trick or Treating. In Lancashire and in the North-east of England they were also known as Harcakes.


“Guising”, wherein children disguised in costumes go from door to door for food and coins, also predates trick or treat, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895. Way back then, masqueraders in disguise carried lanterns made out of scooped out turnips and they visited homes and asked for cakes, fruit and money.

The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging for treats from neighbors on holidays dates 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 andBritain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy.


Photo Credits:

Tom Clare

Stuart Miles

Tina Phillips






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