How did trick or treat start, what is the meaning behind the phrase and how is it done around the world?

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MOST of us see trick or treating as an American tradition, which didn’t become popular in Britain until the 1980s.

But the Halloween custom actually has Celtic roots, and the story behind it is pretty creepy. This is the history of trick or treating…

 Trick or treating dates back to 9th century Celtic times

Getty – Contributor
Trick or treating dates back to 9th century Celtic times

What’s the history of trick or treating?

Trick or treating may seem like a modern event, but you can trace its roots back to Celtic Britain and Ireland in the 9th century.

The night of October 31 was known as Samhain, a Pagan festival which was later combined with Christian celebrations and renamed All Saints’ Day by the Catholic church.

At Samhain, our Pagan ancestors believed the souls of our dead came into our world – and were appeased by offerings of food and drink.

It’s believed that trick or treating evolved from a ritual where people dressed as ghosts and demons, performed dances around a bonfire and received treats to appease the evil spirits.

This practice, known as mumming, dates back to the Middle Ages.

By the time Christianity had spread into Britain, a new practice called souling had developed.

Poor people would visit the houses of the rich and receive pastries called soul cakes, in exchange for promises to pray for the homeowners’ dead relatives.

In Scotland and Ireland, meanwhile, young people would visit their neighbours’ houses and sing a song, recite a poem or perform another sort of ‘trick’ before receiving a treat of nuts, fruit or coins.

 People would dress up as ghosts or demons and receive offerings of food on their behalf - to appease the evil spirits

Getty – Contributor
People would dress up as ghosts or demons and receive offerings of food on their behalf – to appease the evil spirits

What’s the meaning behind the phrase?

The term trick or treating wasn’t used until the 1920s, when it was adopted in America.

The first mention of trick or treating in print was on November 4 1927, according to Today I Found Out.

Discussing the town’s Halloween meeting, a Canadian journalist wrote: “The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word ‘trick or treat,’ to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.”

But adults weren’t too happy about being forced to hand out sweets, under the threat of a trick, when this first started – and saw it more as an offer they couldn’t refuse.

How does trick or treating work today?

Modern trick or treating see kids dress up in a Halloween costume – before taking to the streets with their parents.

Traditionally, people will go from door-to-door with Halloween buckets, asking for sweets from their neighbours between 5.30 and 9.30pm.

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