Remember when you couldn't wait for Halloween? You got to dress up as a princess, ninja, or scary monster and go out begging for candy! For many of us, trick or treating was a childhood staple, but (and this surprised us) trick or treating wasn't really common until the 1950s. Of course, the origins of Halloween itself go back much further than that.
The tradition of going door to door to ask for treats began in Great Britain and Ireland in the Middle Ages, where the poor would go "souling" on Hallowmas (November 1) to beg for food in return for saying prayers for the dead on All Soul's Day (November 2). In fact, the name "Halloween" comes from "Hallow's E'en (evening)," the night before Hallowmas.
The masks and costumes part comes from ancient Celtic traditions of dressing up as the dead to make them happy. This led to "guising" in the 1800s, where people put on disguises, made lanterns out of hollowed-out carved turnips, and went door to door for candy, fruit, and sometimes money.
When the English, Irish, and Scottish settlers came to America around the turn of the century, they brought these customs with them. They found pumpkins much easier to come by (and carve) than turnips, and that's how Jack-o-lanterns became part of modern-day Halloween.
At first, trick or treating was limited to small immigrant communities. It wasn't until the 1950s that Halloween began to catch on everywhere (no doubt encouraged by candy manufacturers). So when you're answering the door tonight, or taking your children out trick or treating, remember the traditions passed down from generation to generation that gave us this fun and spooky holiday!
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