Have you ever wondered how trick or treating came to be? On today’s episode we are going to visit the candy graveyard and dive deep into the history of Halloween.
The tradition of dressing up in costume and going door to door for food has had roots in many ancient cultures. The greeks had a version of this behavior as well as the ancient Romans. For example, the Greek island of Rhodes had a custom where children would dress up as swallows. They would go door to door singing songs. It was expected that the owner of the home would give them food for the performance. If they didn’t give the children food, then the children would perform a trick on the poor homeowner. The trick took the form of mischief against the homeowner. It is unlikely that this custom from a remote Greek island spawned Halloween as we know it today.
Celtic Festivals to Soul Cakes
Fast forward a bit to the Celts. There is actually a Celtic festival that takes place on October 31 – November 1 that seems a dead ringer for Halloween as we know it today.
Samhain is a Celtic festival that celebrates the end of the harvest. It was believed that during this time spirits and souls of the dead would wander through our world. They’d be appeased with offerings of food and drink from different homes. This belief is found through several European cultures. Many people believe that trick or treating evolved from this custom. People began to dress up as the dead and went door to door to receive the offerings.
Another tradition in England seems to have contributed further to modern day trick or treating. Have you ever heard of soul cakes? This is a very Halloween sounding morsel of food. Back in the Middle Ages, Christians would celebrate Allhallowtide. This took place October 31-November 2. People would visit homes and ask for soul cakes. They would say they represented the dead and promised pray for the souls of the relatives who had passed of the homeowner.
Soul Cakes sound really creepy. However, I promise they are completely harmless. They are small cakes usually filled with allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and other sweet spices. Raisins and currents were also added to the mix inside. They were often topped with the mark of a cross before baking to signify that these were offerings to the poor.
Souling: The Roots of Trick or Treating
The act of going door to door hunting for soul cakes became known as “souling”. Soul cakes were often kept for luck and not eaten. In the 1800s, a lady reported that she had a soul cake that was over 100 years old.
Let’s talk about souling for a minute. Souling is a fusion of Pagan and Christian rituals. It was popular in England and spread to Portugal. There is actually a former Portuguese colony in the Philippines that still practices souling to this day!
The earliest record of souling is found in 1511. It was once a widespread tradition throughout England. By the end of the 1800s, only a few towns were still embracing this activity in parts of England and Wales. Souling involves a group of people who go door to door to sing a traditional request for apples, ale and soul cakes. These songs were known as Souler’s songs and had a somber lamenting tone to them. Some towns fully embraced this practice and would leave heaping piles of soul cakes out for people to take.
As souling evolved, people began to dress in costumes or disguises. They would carry lanterns and have bonfires while playing divination games. It sounds pretty dark, but seems to be a main contributor to our modern day Halloween.
The Candy Graveyard: Trick or Treat Becomes A National Phenomenon
Dressing in costumes became known as guising. In 1911 we have the first written documentation of guising in North America. Ritual begging on Halloween also appears in 1915.
The earliest documented record of the phrase, “trick or treat”, took place in 1927 in Blackie, Alberta in Canada. Shoutout to my Canadian relatives! The text is as follows:
“Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. 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.”
Post cards printed for Halloween in the early 1900s showed children, but no costumes and candy. Postcards showing children in costumes started showing up around the 1930s. Trick or treating really started to gain steam in the mid and late 30s.
Modern Day Halloween
Trick or treating struggled to catch on. Just as it was gaining steam, WWII was fully underway. The practice took a hiatus until around 1947 when radio programs and children’s magazines started pitching trick or treating extensively.
I’m picturing this crazy image in my mind as trick or treating struggled to take off. Kids would knock on doors and explain to confused adults what they were doing and that they expected a treat. Some adults went along with it, others would write to their local newspapers furious. They saw it as a form of extortion. There were even some kids who didn’t want to be associated with the practice. In 1948, the Madison square boys club in New York City marched around with a banner that said, “American boys don’t beg.”
I guess the kids and the candy companies won out in the end. The practice is now wide spread and embraced by the majority of Americans. A survey done by the National Confectioners Association showed that in 2005, 80% of adults planned to give out candy to kids on Halloween. The same survey also showed that 93% of kids, teenagers and young adults planned to go trick or treating or participate in other Halloween activities. That is an overwhelming majority and major participation.
The candy graveyard consists of many candy bars and candies that weren’t meant to last. From chicken dinner to dweebs, there are some weird ones out there. Make sure you listen to today’s episode to hear about some of these crazy candy bars and some awesome Halloween fun facts.
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