Wherever you live, chances are that on Oct. 31 you’ll be visited by pirates, ghosts, princesses, and monsters crying, “Trick or treat!” at your front door. Costumes and going door-to-door for treats can be traced back to pagan and Christian rituals from the Middle Ages.
In Britain and Ireland, poor people would beg for food door-to-door in exchange for prayers for the dead on the day before All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2). This practice, called “souling,” evolved from a European pagan tradition.
The wearing of costumes and masks originates in Celtic traditions of attempting to placate evil spirits by copying them.
Immigrants from Scotland and Ireland brought the tradition of “guising” to the New World, with children going through their neighborhoods requesting food and coins, usually in exchange for a dance or poem.
The term “trick or treat” in print was seen in Alberta, Canada, in 1927, and in the Oregon Journal newspaper in 1934: “Other young goblins and ghosts, employing modern shakedown methods, successfully worked the ‘trick or treat’ system in all parts of the city.”
Trick-or-treating had become an established fixture of American popular culture by the 1950s, when Walt Disney produced a cartoon called Trick or Treat, and an episode of the popular TV show Ozzie and Harriet showed children overwhelming the Nelson household in search of candy.