Trick-or-treating and Halloween go hand in hand. However, trick-or-treating as we know it is a rather recent development, less than a hundred years old.
Trick-or-treating’s roots come from many sources, most of them Irish. One of those sources was an old Irish peasant custom of going door to door to collect money, eggs, cheese, nuts, butter, apples, and other things for the festival of St. Columb Kill.
Trick-or-treating also has its roots in the custom of “souling” from the Middle Ages. Souling took place on All Souls’ Day, November second. This event, approved by the Catholic Church, was devised so beggars could door to door and ask for “soul cakes” in exchange for prayers. Soul cakes were made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars received, the more prayers they promised to say on behalf of dead relatives. Soul Cake Day is still popular in Scotland and Ireland.
Trick-or-Treating didn’t begin in the United States until the early part of the 20th century. In the 1930’s, it made its way into newspapers and magazines. Throughout the 1940’s children’s books and television shows made it more popular. However, trick-or-treating really caught fire in 1952 when Walt Disney debuted his cartoon, Trick or Treat.
Trick-or-treating has become widespread in the United States since then. Lately, people are starting to have a problem with the “trick” part. The original idea was that if a person didn’t give trick-or-treaters a treat, then they would play a trick on that person. Unfortunately, vandalism for the sake of the trick is on the rise and that has caused trick-or-treating to be banned in some areas.
During the 1980’s, stories began circulating about razor blades embedded in apples and poisoned candy. After research by numerous organizations, it has been decided that it was all talk. There have been only three isolated incidences that have fueled these stories.
In 1964, a woman in New York handed out dog biscuits, steel wool pads, and ant poison, which was clearly marked, because she was upset at so many older teenagers who came around.
In 1974, a boy died from cyanide-laced Pixie Stix. After investigation, it was determined that his father intentionally poisoned them to collect life insurance on the boy. The man felt he would get away with it because he said things like this “happen all the time”.
In 1982, on the heels on the Tylenol Poisonings, fifteen children and one adult became ill at a Halloween party. The cause was never determined, but many felt this was a copycat crime.
Trick-or-treating has become as much of a part of Americana as apple pie and baseball and it is here to stay.