Halloween itself is a holiday that has been through several transformations over the years, widely believed by some to be the “devil’s birthday” despite the fact that it’s a Catholic holiday, All Hallow’s Eve. However, as we at Blackburn CDJR have found out, the origins of Halloween and, consequently, the history of trick-or-treating, are a little more complex than that. The traditions that became trick-or-treat started in ancient times, blending together a Celtic festival with other medieval influences.
The pre-Christian Celts of ancient Ireland believed their festival Samhain, typically celebrated on or near the night of October 31st, fell on a night when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was thinnest. Villagers would honor the dead by paying homage, making bonfires, and dressing in scary costumes to scare off any spirits that might be wandering about. This eventually grew into people in costume putting on fun performances in exchange for food and drink, a tradition called “mumming.”
In later centuries, after the Church spread Christianity into Ireland, Samhain transformed into a Christian holiday, in which mumming turned into “guising,” where poor, young Europeans would disguise themselves and go to rich people’s house to ask for donations of soul cakes, other food, and drink in homage to their dead ancestors.
The history of trick-or-treating spread through America, where it temporarily ceased during sugar rations in World War II, but renewed with fresh vigor during the economic boom of the Baby Boomers as the nation’s second-largest commercial holiday.