Ah, Halloween! The night when otherwise normal children are suddenly transformed (with the help of mom and dad’s pocketbook) into ghosts and goblins, superheroes and vampires. Instead of the usual admonition to not take candy from strangers, on Halloween, these dressed up children go door-to-door bellowing “Trick or treat!” and collecting as much candy from strangers as they can.
Where does this tradition come from? Why dress in costume? And why call out “Trick or treat” when you arrive at someone’s door?
A Soul-Cake, a Soul-Cake!
Halloween has taken hundreds of years to develop into the holiday we know today. The custom of “mumming,” or going door-to-door in disguise has been around since the Middle Ages in Britain and Ireland. Mummers would work their way through the neighborhoods performing skits or scenes from plays for food, drink, or money. Mumming, however, was done on all major holidays, not just one.
The date of October 31 most likely comes from the Celtic countries, where Samhain was celebrated each October 31-November 1. Samhain was a festival that marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker, colder months of the year.
Pagan in nature, Samhain was a time of year when the separation between our world and the supernatural world was believed to be particularly thin. Faeries, pagan gods, and the souls of the dead could cross to our world and needed to be appeased, so food and drink were left out for them. Part of the Samhain festivities involved people “guising” themselves (dressing in costume) and going door-to-door reciting verses for food. Most historians believe that people disguised themselves so that the otherworldly creatures who were lurking about wouldn’t recognize them.
By the 15th century, Christianity had blended with the older pagan rituals, and Samhain now went by the names Allhallowtide, Hallowmas, Hallowtide, and Allsaintstide. Adults and children alike went door-to-door singing songs and reciting verses for “treats” of soul-cakes thought to soothe the restless souls of the dead. They promised mischief, “tricks,” to the household if they weren’t welcomed. Trick or treat? Will you give us a treat, a soul-cake, or shall we do mischief to you?
Now that our society has gotten over most its worry about restless souls and pagan gods crossing the threshold to our world, Halloween has become a simple dress-up-and-go-collect-candy tradition that many children and adults enjoy. But, like all good things, Halloween comes with some risks. Here are some simple guidelines to keep in mind that will help your family have a safe and fun Halloween:
Halloween is fun! We here at Z-CoiL hope you have a safe blast this year getting yourself and your kids all costumed up and going out to enjoy the festivities. Trick or treat!