October 29, 2021
It’s that time of year again – when ghouls and goblins show up on doorsteps searching for sweet treats. While tricks are rarely played anymore, we all know the refrain. But where does the phrase ‘Trick or Treat” come from? Why do we give out candy each Halloween?
The history of Halloween began about 2,000 years ago in Europe, and the earliest versions of the holiday were mostly about honoring the recently deceased and fending off not-so-well-meaning spirits.
The first trick-or-treaters weren’t trick-or-treaters at all. They were called ‘soulers,’ and were poor children in medieval Europe who would go door to door begging for ‘soul-cakes,’ fruit or nuts in exchange for a song or prayers for recently departed loved ones. ‘Souling’ took place during Samhain (essentially Celtic New Year’s Eve), when it was believed the dead roamed the earth, and only prayer could save their souls.
By the time these traditions made their way to the New World, prayers had been replaced by more ambitious offerings in exchange for a treat. The children would often sing, tell a joke, or stage doorstep performances in a tradition that became known as ‘mumming’. Candy hadn’t entered the picture yet – instead, the ‘mummer’ (children in costume) were given fruit, coins, or small toys.
By the 1920s, mumming was replaced with pranking. When the Great Depression hit, the mischief turned to absolute vandalism and violence. Overturned cars, harassment, assault, and damaged houses were all common occurrences.
The out-of-control youth drove communities start organizing less destructive events, such as parades. These eventually transformed into Halloween parties in the 1950s.
Which brings us to candy. Because of sugar rations during the Great Depression, WWI, and WWII, trick or treaters were still receiving fruit, nuts, coins or small toys. By the 1950s, those rations were a thing of the past. Candy manufacturers saw an opportunity – what child doesn’t love candy? Halloween candy marketing campaigns came out in full force.
According to Insider, this year, Americans are projected to spend $3 billion on Halloween candy – those marketing campaigns in the 1950s most certainly paid off!
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