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Origins of "Trick or Treat"

Oct 2, 2011

Have you ever wondered where the idea to “trick or treat” came from? 

“Trick or Treat” can be traced back to the Middle Ages, just not by the same name.  “Trick or Treat” is much like medieval “souling”.  The earliest practices originated in Ireland and Britain.  “Souling” was when the poor would ask for food door to door on Hallowmas which was November 1st. They would receive the food and promise to pray for the dead on All Souls Day, November 2nd.  The poor would wear costumes and beg for treats.  It was even seen during the Christmas season.   There is even evidence that it was practiced as far south as Italy.

Now, you ask why it was called “Souling”?   Well, the treats given to the poor were these small round cakes that were in fact made to celebrate “All Saints Day” or “All Soul’s Day” in honor of the dead. These little cakes were called “souls”.  Interesting enough, each cake represents a soul being freed from Purgatory. In some parts of England they were known as “harcakes”.  These small cakes came  jammed pack with ingredients, some had nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, or other sweet spices, raisins or currants.  Right before they were placed in the oven, each cake was marked with a cross to signify that these were alms. Not only were the poor given a small cake, they were usually served a cup of wine, too.  To the poor, this must have been a true feast, especially during the middle ages where hunger ran rampant.

On Hallows Eve and on All Saints Day the children would go “souling” calling out “A Soalin’ ” instead of “Trick or Treat”!

So, you ask where does “Trick or Treat” come from? It’s an American thing of course!   The earliest evidence of this term being used can be found in print in 1927 from Blackie, Alberta:

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.

“Trick or Treat” really catched on during the 1950’s in the United States,  mostly on the west coast and Canada, and then spreading towards the east.  It wasn’t until the 1980 that the term gained popularity in England.

In 1963 Peter, Paul and Mary wrote and sang a song about “souling”:
Soul, Soul, a soul cake!
I pray thee, good missus, a soul cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
three for Him what made us all!
Soul Cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry, any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul, & three for Him who made us all.

Although Halloween is banned in some parts of the world, it is becoming more and more popular as time goes by.

I hope everyone has a great Halloween this year!
Make sure to always check your candy for any signs of tampering or breakage.  
As of today, there has been no announcements of dangerous candy or treats,
 but keep abreast of any recalls by way of the FDAConsumer Reports
and news outlets.

FYI : Puerto Ricans say:  “Trick or Treat dame dulce no mani!”  (Give me candy, not peanuts) while going door to door.

Read this article about  Halloween CandyTampering Myth

Tomorrow’s post will be all about costumes.

* Souces for this post Wikipedia,  FDA, Consumer Reports.

1 comment

  1. That is really interesting. I Had never heard about a "soul cake." I wonder if that is what Speculoos in Belgium are about. ...
    In re costumes I will be giving a credit to Buy Fairy COstumes at the HOP for RED OCT this week. Steph


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