Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating are relatively modern customs, but their origins can be traced back to the Celts and even a long-lost Christmas custom.
Trick-or-treating has been a popular modern Halloween custom for decades, but historians claim that kids begging their neighbors for food may date back to Celtic festivals or even a long-lost Christmas practice.
And the phrase “trick or treat” dates back to the 1920s, when Halloween pranks once terrified entire cities.
Here’s how trick-or-treating became such a popular pastime and the surprising history behind some of Halloween’s most iconic traditions.
The History Of Halloween – Origins In Celtic Festivals
Halloween may be best known as an American holiday these days, but it actually has its roots in Celtic festivals that were celebrated more than 2,000 years ago.
The Celts, who hailed from parts of modern-day Germany and France, celebrated their New Year on November 1.
They believed that during this time a transition took place between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
In order to appease spirits who were able to roam freely during All Hallows’ Eve, they set out food and drink offerings and performed rituals like dressing up in costumes or burning bonfires.
After the Romans invaded much of the area that the Celts once called home, they brought these celebrations to countries like Ireland and Great Britain.
In fact, Samhain is a variant of “Sábhán” — one of the ancient Gaelic words for October 31.
The History Of Halloween – A Lost Christmas Tradition?
It’s also possible that the modern custom of trick-or-treating may have its origins in a long-lost Christmas tradition.
Back in the Middle Ages, it was common for wealthier people to give out food and treats to the poor in exchange for a performance or song.
Some historians believe that kids may have started going door-to-door begging for food and candy during Halloween as a way to emulate this tradition.
The History Of Halloween – The Phrase “Trick Or Treat”
The phrase “trick or treat” is actually a bit newer than many of the other traditions associated with Halloween. It first appeared in print in the 1920s, and it was most likely used as a threat to get naughty kids to behave.
However, over time it’s come to be seen more as a joke or light-hearted warning. And these days, it’s hard to find a kid who goes trick-or-treating that hasn’t heard it before.
The History Of Halloween – Druids And Bonfires
While trick-or-treating and costumes may be relatively new traditions, some of the other iconic aspects of Halloween have been around for much longer.
One example is the use of bonfires, which are thought to date back to the Celts. They would often burn these fires as a way to ward off evil spirits and celebrate the end of the harvest season.
Another tradition that has been around for centuries is the use of Druids. These were Celtic priests who would often dress up in white robes and perform rituals like blessing crops and predicting the future.
The History Of Halloween – Popularity In North America
Halloween was actually relatively unknown in the US and Canada until the mid-19th century. But once it caught on, it spread like wildfire — and modern celebrations quickly became centered around costumes and trick-or-treating.
In fact, Halloween has been called “America’s Favorite Holiday” because of the sheer scope of celebrations. In 2014, more than 153 million Americans went trick-or-treating, and cities everywhere lit up in orange light from all the jack-o’-lanterns.
The History Of Halloween – Jack-o’-lanterns And The Legend Of Stingy Jack
Stingy Jack, who was known for his mischievous ways and selfish behavior, gets the credit for putting a twist on an old Irish tradition.
According to stories that originated in Ireland and were later passed down throughout Britain, Stingy Jack was able to trick the devil himself.
He did this by convincing the devil to turn himself into a coin so that Jack could buy some drinks. But instead of using the coin, Jack put it in his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the devil from turning back into his original form.
Later, when Jack died, he was denied entry into both heaven and hell. He was sent off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way.
And that’s how jack-o’-lanterns came to be associated with Halloween.
The History Of Halloween – The Tradition Of Costume-Making
While it’s hard to say for sure when people started dressing up in costumes for Halloween, the tradition almost certainly dates back to when it was a Celtic holiday.
In Ireland and Scotland, people would dress up in costumes that symbolized the opposite of what they were celebrating — so if they celebrated fertility, they’d wear a costume that depicted death. If they celebrated the harvest, they dressed as winter spirits.
These days, costumes for Halloween can be anything from scary monsters to funny animals. And there’s no limit to the creativity that people put into making them.
The History Of Halloween – A Time To Eat Candy
Another tradition that has become closely associated with Halloween is eating lots of candy. In fact, Americans spend around $2 billion on candy every year for the holiday.
While it’s hard to say exactly where this tradition came from, it’s likely that it was influenced by the fact that many countries celebrate All Saints’ Day (also known as All Hallows’ Day) on November 1st.
This is a day dedicated to celebrating the dead, and it often involves eating special foods like candy corn and pumpkin pie.
So whether you’re dressing up in a costume, going trick-or-treating, or just eating lots of candy, there’s no doubt that Halloween is a fun and festive holiday. And it’s a great way to celebrate the end of the year!
The History Of Halloween – Spooky Fun For Everyone
Over time, Halloween has become a holiday that is enjoyed by people of all ages.
It’s a time when people can let loose and have some fun with spooky costumes, eerie decorations, and frightening stories.
And even though the history of Halloween is steeped in ancient traditions, it’s still a holiday that is constantly evolving. So who knows what new traditions will emerge in the years to come?
Halloween has been around for a long time, and it’s going to be around for a lot longer.
So whether you’re dressing up in a costume, going trick-or-treating, or just eating lots of candy, there’s no doubt that Halloween is a fun and festive holiday.
And it’s a great way to celebrate the end of the year!