A tradition which spans centuries
October 25, 2022
For children everywhere, dressing up for Halloween and getting to go out trick or treating is almost as great as Christmas. After all, what’s not to like about a day when you can put on a costume, roam the streets of your neighborhood in the dark, and have people fill your outstretched bag with candy?
For anyone who grew up in the 1950’s and later, Halloween has been a day to embrace the joys of childhood.
Which got me to wondering this week “When, exactly, did the tradition of trick or treating begin?”
For the answer we turn, of course, to the Infallible Wikipedia:
“Since the Middle Ages, a tradition of mumming on a certain holiday has existed in parts of Britain and Ireland. It involved going door-to-door in costume, performing short scenes or parts of plays in exchange for food or drink. The custom of trick-or-treating on Halloween may come from the belief that supernatural beings, or the souls of the dead, roamed the earth at this time and needed to be appeased.”
Okay, so it was not invented recently. Today’s current trend in the United States has its roots some 80 years ago:
“Almost all pre-1940 uses of the term ‘trick-or-treat’ are from the United States and Canada. Trick-or-treating spread throughout the United States, stalled only by World War II sugar rationing that began in April, 1942 and lasted until June, 1947.
Early national attention to trick-or-treating was given in October 1947 issues of the children’s magazines Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities, and by Halloween episodes of the network radio programs The Baby Snooks Show in 1946 and The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1948. Trick-or-treating was depicted in the Peanuts comic strip in 1951. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney portrayed it in the cartoon Trick or Treat, and Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their television show. In 1953 UNICEF first conducted a national campaign for children to raise funds for the charity while trick-or-treating.
(snip) The National Confectioners Association reported in 2005 that 80 percent of adults in the United States planned to give out confectionery to trick-or-treaters, and that 93 percent of children, teenagers, and young adults planned to go trick-or-treating or participating in other Halloween activities.”
My own earliest memories of Trick or Treating on Halloween were likely from the second fall after we moved to Yakima. That would have been the year I was five. It is all a bit fuzzy but I remember getting to dress up as a gypsy and wearing a hard plastic face mask with the face of a smiling lady wearing a scarf and large earrings painted on it.
It was my father who walked with my sister and me around the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure my older brother got to trick or treat with friends. The best part was when we got home and we dumped our prizes out on the living room floor and sorted the bounty.
This went on for the next five or six years. Eventually, my older brother ‘aged’ out since my mother had a rule that once you turned twelve you were too old for trick or treating. By the time I first went trick or treating, my oldest brother had been relegated to the passing out of candy.
When the year arrived I turned twelve, my mother had apparently been worn down by all her children because somehow I was allowed to go out trick or treating. The last year I remember participating was the year I was… 16! In my diary entry that year I wrote the following:
“In Reveille (yearbook class) we had a party, and it started to snow. The snow stuck, 2 inches of it. Andi & Vicki came down & we went out Trick or treating.”
I knew that it snowed the last year I went trick or treating but was surprised at how old I was!
Eventually the allure of trick or treating faded away… until October of 1990… and it was time to share the tradition with my offspring.
My son turned nine months old that Halloween and I dressed him up in a baby onesie which looked like a tiny tuxedo. I made him a black top hat and he was quite dapper. Then the hubby carted him to a few neighbors’ houses so he could trick or treat.
In the ensuing years, Halloween was ALWAYS a big deal for the kids, a tradition to be embraced. Each year they both would plan their costumes and this mom was frequently pressed into sewing services to create their vision.
By the time my daughter was a teenager, we were involved with the Rainbow Girls and Halloween was an opportunity to help the community. For most of those years, our group planned a food collection event. The girls, most of them now too old to be trick or treating, would distribute fliers a week to ten days before the holiday to about 300 houses asking for people to donate canned items for the food bank. Then, on Halloween night, the girls would go in pairs to the houses and collect the food. An adult would be in a car on the road so the girls had a place to put the collected items.
When I asked my daughter what her most memorable Halloween was, here’s what she wrote:
“Not sure if this counts but my most memorable Halloween from my youth was the year I was worthy advisor (president) and we collected like 600lbs of canned goods for NW Harvest.”
Although I miss the excitement of Halloween night with my children, it is fun to see a new generation ring my doorbell and shout “Trick Or Treat!” when I open it.