The story behind trick or treating dates back to the earliest times, when people wore masks when droughts or diseases or other disasters struck. They believed that the hideous masks could frighten off the demons who brought about their misfortunes. The pagan festival of Samhain came at a time of year when the weather was turning chilly and the cold, envious ghosts outside were constantly trying to trick mortals into letting them in by the fire. People who went out after dark often wore masks to keep from being recognized.
Similar practices went on throughout Europe. In parts of England the poor once went to houses singing and begging for soul cakes or money. Until very recently children would dress up as ghosts and goblins to scare the neighbors, but there was no trick or treating. Around 40 years ago people began to offer treats to their costumed visitors Spanish people put cakes and nuts on graves on Halloween, to bribe the evil spirits.
The Irish brought Halloween to America in the 1840’s although the custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have its origins in a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for “soul cakes” made of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they promised to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. It was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, would expedite a soul’s admittance into heaven.
Over time the custom changed and children became the beggars. As they went from house to house they would be given apples, buns, and money and other treats to insure that the ghosts or goblins didn’t play tricks.
Cheri Sicard is the editor of FabulousFoods.com, a favorite net destination for recipes, cooking tutorials, holiday and entertaining ideas, celebrity chef interviews, cookbook reviews and more. Sign up for their free cooking newsletters! http://www.fabulousfoods.com