Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Origin of Trick or Treat

I learned this years ago, but I cannot document it, thus this should be treated as a hypothesis rather than an absolute fact. For the record, in spite of its origins, I consider Trick-or-Treating to be harmless and am not opposed to observing Halloween in a traditional manner. The old beliefs that started it are pretty much dead and it has been reduced to harmless fun.

About 3000 years ago, give or take a few, October 31 was the Fall Equinox (note other minor holidays on the old equinox/solitice dates -- Ground Hog's Day, May Day, Mid-Summer's Eve -- 3 months apart.)

Some pre-Christian European religions during this time period believed the dead would get up and walk around on that night. In order to protect themselves from the dead people would put food out for them hoping they would take it rather than them.

Now some of the poor were desperate enough to steal that food, but there really wasn't that much of it. Some of the more brazen would cake themselves in mud etc. to look like they have just come out of the grave and go ask for more food. Trick or Treat is supposedly derived from a threat of "We will curse you if you don't feed us."

Over the years, the old beliefs died out and were replaced by Christianity. What was once a solemn and frightening ritual became an eve of light-hearted frolic, as the night when they feared the dead became All Saints Night, a day of feasting and thanksgiving.

If you are so inclined, go Trick-or-treating or some other party but remember, no one is going to really believe that you are dead.

Actually, a number of years ago, when I was on leave from the Navy, I was home and the neighbor kids were having a hayride on Halloweeen night. I and a neighbor who was just a couple of years younger than me grabbed some sheets and headed to an old abandoned grave yard that was about a mile from our home and was right along the road the hayride was going down. When the ride was passing the graveyard we ran out with our sheets over us going "Whooooo oo oo ". Yeah we scared em alright, for about 3 seconds.


Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

I learned something new but I still don't like Halloween - too pagan for my tastes.

2:05 AM  
Blogger Lone Pony said...

I'm not very tall and my voice sounds young. Maybe if I dress up in a sheet and hunker down and.. and.. Oh, better not, I'm on a diet. LOL

Interesting history. Thanks SR!

6:52 AM  
Blogger dons_mind said...

interesting story - have heard similar versions before - - must be true in some form.... we've always had some goodies around for the kids on halloween and both ours always dressed in costumes and had fun - least until they hit 13 or so and decided that halloween wasn't "cool" anymore! lol

good post shoprat.......

8:51 AM  
Blogger Gayle said...

My daughter still loves Halloween and she's 19!

I never have enjoyed it but it is probably because of a horrible experience. My family was always moving so I was continuously the new kid in schools, usually small country schools where the kids had been there since they were old enough to go to school and new kids were fair game.

I was 14 years old and all the kids said they were going to dress up in costumes and they got together and drew pieces of paper out of a hat saying what you had to dress up as. I drew one that said I had to wear a girdle on the outside of my clothes and die my hair green with food die. By now you probably know what happened. I went to the party and I was the only kid in costume. They screeched in idiotic glee at my total embarrassment. Kids can be so damnably cruel. I haven't liked Halloween ever since.

But I made the constumes for my kids, took them Trick or Treating and pretended to enjoy the holiday when I hated it. It always brought that memory back. Now my oldest is 19, we live out in the country, and we don't have trick-or-treaters coming around, so I never have to be bothered with it again! Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas are my holidays.

7:42 PM  
Blogger Skip said...

Hallowe'en ROCKS... usually one of my favorites, not this year tho, not sure why, to much going on, I guess.
OH YEAH Scared us for three seconds?!?!?! after 30 years (yes 30) I still need to sleep with a light on!!

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tend to agree that it's harmless fun for the most part, but there are some real nut jobs out there that can take it to the extreme; Like sawing down trees that fall on the highway at night( big ritual around here. )And of course the candy is always an issue with possible razor blades inserted in it or other harmful objects designed to hurt children.

Our city has a sponsored trick or treat night for the kids and you can spend a few hours collecting candy, checking out the haunted houses and other safe events. It's pretty cool...

10:41 PM  
Blogger shoprat said...

pjc That is a decision I respect

lp I'm sure you will enjoy whatever you do.

dm I am pretty certain it is true, but have no documentation. My final trick or treat was at age 12.

gayle There are holidays that do nothing for me as well.

Skip As I recall you were amongst those throwing hay at us and yelling "It's just (my name) and D**** K*******"!"

Gunz unfortunately there are those who try, and almost succeed in ruining it for everyone. Devil's Night is notorious for arson in Detroit.

6:29 AM  
Blogger The Oneonta Teletype said...

Isn't there a lot of gunfire on Devil's Night in Detroit? And New Years Eve. Maybe it's Eminem ?

A friend of mine puts a sign on his gate: Kids! Leave all the goodies on the doorstep and no one will get hurt.

(It's actually from a Far Side cartoon, which is printed on the sign, so it is of course a joke and he decorates the place for Halloween).

Of course, some spoilsport took the thing at face value and called the cops one year, but they knew it was a joke.

9:17 PM  

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