trick or treat question

It seems like this would have been addressed here before, but I didn’t find it when I searched, probably someone else will do a better job. Apologies in advance.

Now, I’ve read that halloween comes from the celtic new year samhain (new year, end of summer) when they believed that this day the dead were particularly able to enter the world of the living and haunt it, possess people and what not. Hence the scary costumes that people would use to frighten the spirits away.

I’ve read that the trick or treating tradition comes from the celtic practice of leaving treats for the spirits on their doors, also from the christian practice of collecting “soul bread” on the night before all saints day.

But why the term “trick or treat?” where does that come from?

I don’t have any answers for you, but I have another trick or treat tradition for you…

A friend of mine that grew up in St Louis said that you had to have a joke to tell the person with the treat or you didn’t get anything.

No one else from my college dorm had ever heard of this, but another friend from a neighborhood close to the first girl also was a joke-teller.

Anywhere else in this crazy world do this?

I believe the idea is that you “appease the spirit” with a treat, or else it will play a trick on you.

In the modern world, “Cough up the goods, or we’ll TP your house!”

FilmGeek: I have not heard of that tradition, but when I was a kid some people would ask the children to do some sort of “trick” (sing, dance, etc.) to get a treat.

In Scotland, we have “guising” whereby children dress up (scary costumes, or even just silly ones) and go around houses with the plan of being given apples, nuts, sweets in return for singing a song, telling a joke, or something similar.

I was not aware of any “trick” tradition when I was young, but, who knows? maybe my parents were just VERY wisely not letting us kids know about that! :slight_smile:

Have you seen the episode of The Simpsons (halloween special) which describes the origin of trick or treating?? I thought that was the real story behind it, it made sense…

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.

True, but its origins had almost nothing to do with Halloween. What is now called guising was originally a form of begging and was carried out throughout the winter months. In so far as it was associated with particular days, it was most common during the Twelve Days of Christmas, not Halloween. It was also practised by adults, not children. Nor was it specifically Scottish, being equally common in the north of England. In other words, it was a variation of what (in its historical context) is more usually called mumming. It is only in relatively modern times that the custom has come to be exclusively associated with Halloween. ‘Trick or treat’ is simply a cruder version of the same custom.

What this means is that any theory which assumes that its origins were specifically linked to Halloween/Samhain/the dead is a non-starter. Rather it was a way by which the poor could obtain food from their richer neighbours at the harshest time of year. It was less awkward for both sides than the poor just turning up on the doorstep and directly asking for charity.

When I was a child in the 50’s we just did not have trick or treat or had even heard of Halloween . This was in the English Midlands. I have also spoken to several people who were bought up in East Anglia in the same era and they say the same. It is only since the late 70’s that it has realy taken off in this country. I look on it as yet another US import designed to part people from their money.

New St. Louis resident here. Last year was my first year in a house in STL (Southwest City). I was just having a good time handing out candy, and then a bunch of kids started telling me jokes when they came up to the door. So then I started making all the kids tell me jokes. It was pretty fun. Never did that where I was from (Southern IL). But, in IL, we also had 2 nights of trick or treating instead of 1.

Funnily enough, it’s been a long standing tradition in Ireland. I always thought the reason it wasn’t celebrated in Britain was because many of the traditions (bonfires, fireworks etc.) took place a few days later on Guy Fawkes Night.

Iffy, but sounds neat to me:

"Trick or Treat, or going from house to house to ask for gifts, was said to have originated in England, where peasant children, dressed in rags like prisoners, would beg for coins or treats as a token of remembrance of a man, Guy Fawkes, who was drawn and quartered after attempting to blow up the British government offices. "

Yes, handy, the Guy Fawkes theory is very iffy - like almost every other statement on that webpage, it is wrong. It is a good example of how just because two customs are vaguely similar and fall close to each other in the year does not mean that there is necessarily any connection between them. The most obvious reason to doubt the connection is that Trick or Treat has never had any trace of the virulent anti-popery which, until the twentieth century, was central to Guy Fawkes Night.

manwithaplan makes an important point in mentioning the Irish customs, because what I really ought to have said before is that Ireland had parallel guising traditions to those in Scotland and the north of England and for the same reasons. What however was distinctive about the Irish traditions was that they developed the idea of playing pranks. It was that mutation in the tradition which almost certainly provides the crucial link to the American idea of Trick or Treat.

The actual term “trick or treat” is almost certainly an Americanism and has been recently traced back in print to 1938. I doubt that it exists much beyond that as a phrase.