Here’s another St. Louisan chiming in. (Is it just me, or does it seem St. Louis is represented disproportionately on this board?)
When I was a kid (the 60s), some people would require that one do a “trick” before getting candy. Invariably the trick done was to tell a lame joke or riddle. There seemed, in fact, to be a stale assortment of jokes and riddles which were only told on Halloween. Two which come to mind:
“What’s the biggest pencil? Answer: The one in Pencil-vania”.
“Did you hear about the big disaster at the army base? Somebody spilled a bag of popcorn and two kernels (colonels) were run over.” And, of course, there was the one about “what’s red and black and read all over”.
On Halloween a few years ago I handed out candy at a girlfriend’s house in the Bevo neighborghood in South St. Louis. (Picture Archie Bunker’s neighborhood on All in the Family, but with a lot of Bosnian immigrants). Practically every other kid who came by asked “Why is ten afraid? Answer: seven eight (ate) nine”. Just to be different one child asked if our underwear had holes in it. “No? Then how do you get it on?”
This practice of requiring a trick can’t be an exclusively St. Louis custom. I recall a Dave Berg cartoon from Mad in my youth where kids at the door say “trick or treat?” and the man of the house says “trick” and they all whine. The implication there, though, might be that one either gets a treat, or one has to do a trick–and get nothing. I can’t imagine that system would catch on though.
More recently I’ve heard the suggestion that “trick or treat” orginally meant one passed out treats or one got a “trick” you didn’t want. In other words, it was a mild form of protection racket; pass out candy or find your outhouse had been tipped over, your windows soaped, etc. While Halloween was traditionally associated with such pranks–Orson Welles alludes to them in his speech at the end of The War of the Worlds broadcast of Oct. 30, 1938–I am skeptical of this interpretation.
It is interesting to question just where and how trick or treating became the standard way for children to observe Halloween. At least in St. Louis, the practices for children back in 1904 were very different, as demonstrated in the film Meet Me in St. Louis.