The ‘Ghostly’ (Hi)Story of Trick-or-Treating

The ‘Ghostly’ (Hi)Story of Trick-or-Treating

Do you have your bowl of Halloween candy ready for trick-or-treaters this year? Trick-or-treating is such a beloved Halloween tradition you would think it's been around forever. But you might be surprised to learn it’s actually a fairly new American custom that has its roots in centuries-old celebrations from Europe.

How Trick-or-Treating Got Started
Historians trace Halloween’s origins back thousands of years ago to the Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts believed the dead returned to the earth on October 31. They would light fires and offer fruit, vegetable and animal sacrifices to the dead on this day.

Fast forward several centuries and people began dressing up as ghosts and demons and preformed ‘tricks’ in exchange for food and drink. This practice was known as ‘mumming’ and is likely one of the earliest examples of modern-day trick-or-treating.

As the years progressed, similar customs popped up all around Europe. In England, poor people would go to the doors of the wealthy and offer to pray for their dead loved ones in exchange for soul cakes. In Scotland and Ireland, young people would dress up in costumes and do some sort of trick, such as singing, for treats such as food, drink or money.

Halloween in the U.S.
European immigrants brought a lot of these traditions to the U.S. and the modern version of Halloween began to take shape. Though trick-or-treating didn’t become a common practice in the U.S until the 1940s. That’s right; today’s Halloween hasn’t even been around for a century.

While trick-or-treating is a blast, it can also lead to some unhealthy choices – mainly eating too much sugar. But there are 'tricks' to making Halloween safe and healthy. 

What are your family’s traditions on Halloween? Tell us about your special treats in the comments.

Source:History Channel, leaving site icon Library of Congress  leaving site icon

Originally published 10/31/2015; Revised 2019