The Fascinating Reason We Go Trick-or-Treating on Halloween
One of my favorite memories as a kid was planning my yearly costume and proudly modeling it as I went door-to-door asking for chocolates on Halloween night. As an adult, I’ve always wondered where the trick-or-treat tradition came from. Why do families go door-to-door asking for candy, and where did the idea of "trick-or-treat" come from?
I recently learned that the tradition dates almost as far back as the holiday itself, and the story behind it is fascinating. It turns out, it wasn't always about performing tricks for the neighbors or carrying around a pumpkin-shaped bucket to collect handfuls of Reese's Cups and Hershey's bars. In fact, the phrase “trick-or-treat” wasn’t coined until fairly recently.
Before you get into costume and head out with your family this Halloween, read up on the history of this iconic celebration.
Why Do We Go Trick-or-Treating?
Today's Halloween rituals are based on an ancient Celtic celebration called Samhain, which dates back more than 2,000 years. As it spread to England in the first century, Samhain morphed into two separate holidays: Halloween on October 31, and what is now known as All Saints Day, celebrated at the beginning of November. Those who celebrated Samhain believed that the souls of dead relatives would reappear on this holiday, but they also believed evil spirits would be present, too.
To scare off the evil spirits, residents would dress up as animals or monsters, and that’s why we wear costumes for Halloween today. Volunteers would dress in costume and perform dances to scare off the spirits in exchange for food and drink. This is where the “trick” part of “trick-or-treat” was born.
Around the same time, those in need of food would go door-to-door and ask for “soul cakes” (a pastry of sorts). In exchange for the food, they’d pray for the souls of the wealthy. This is how the “treat” portion of “trick-or-treat” came to be.
Why Do We Say 'Trick-or-Treat?'
The practice of trick-or-treating dates back several centuries, though we’ve swapped “soul cakes” for candy bars and gummy bears over the years. The phrase “trick-or-treat,” on the other hand, has a far more recent creation—one that’s linked to beloved comic strip character Charlie Brown. That’s right: We have the Peanuts gang (and their creator Charles Schulz) to thank for this sweet Halloween saying.
Trick-or-treating was a common practice in Europe and America, but children didn’t ring the doorbell and say “trick-or-treat” until the early 1950s, when a Peanuts comic strip ran a cartoon about trick-or-treating. The phrase had been used here and there but wasn't popularized until the cartoon. So next time you watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, you can thank Charlie Brown and his trick-or-treat bag full of rocks for this Halloween tradition.