Trick-or-treating, is an activity for children on or around Halloween in which they proceed from house to house in costumes, asking for treats such as confectionery with the question, "Trick or treat?" The "trick" part of "trick or treat" is a threat to play a trick on the homeowner or his property if no treat is given. Trick-or-treating is one of the main traditions of Halloween. It has become socially expected that if one lives in a neighborhood with children one should purchase treats in preparation for trick-or-treaters. 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, [ [ Trick-or-treaters can expect Mom or Dad’s favorites in their bags this year] , National Confectioners Association, 2005.] and that 93 percent of children planned to go trick-or-treating. [ [ Fun Facts: Halloween] , National Confectioners Association, 2004.]

The activity is popular in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and due to increased American cultural influence in recent years, imported through exposure to US television and other media, trick-or-treating has started to occur among children in many parts of Europe, and in the Saudi Aramco residential camp of Dhahran, Akaria compounds and Ras Tanura in Saudi Arabia. The most significant growth — and resistance — is in the United Kingdom, where the police have threatened to prosecute parents who allow their children to carry out the "trick" element. [ [ Halloween pranks could cost parents] , BBC, 16 Oct. 2003; [ Halloween pranks will be punished] , BBC, 27 Oct. 2004.] [ [ Trick or treaters given a warning] , BBC, 23 Oct. 2006; [ Posters to stop trick or treaters] , BBC, 25 Oct. 2006.] In continental Europe, where the commerce-driven importation of Halloween is seen with more skepticism, numerous destructive or illegal "tricks" and police warnings have further raised suspicion about this game and Halloween in general.

In Sweden children dress up as witches and go trick-or-treating on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) while Danish children dress up in various attires and go trick-or-treating on Fastelavn (or the next day, Shrove Monday).

In Ohio, Iowa, and Massachusetts, the night designated for Trick-or-treating is often referred to as Beggars Night.


The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages, and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of "souling," when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland and Britain, [cite book
first = Nicholas
last = Rogers
title = Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night
location =
publisher = Oxford University Press
year = 2002
pages = 28–30
id = ISBN 0-19-514691-3
] although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. ["Ask Anne", "Washington Post", Nov. 21, 1948, p. S11.] Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering, whining] , like a beggar at Hallowmas." [Act 2, Scene 1.]

Yet there is no evidence that souling was ever practiced in North America, and trick-or-treating may have developed in North America independent of any Irish or British antecedent. [" [T] rick or treat isn't a tradition. In the 80s it was still viewed as an exotic and not particularly welcome import, the Japanese knotweed of festivals." — Sean Coughlan, " [ The Japanese knotweed of festivals] ", BBC News Magazine, 31 October 2007.] There is little primary documentation of masking or costuming on Halloween — in Ireland, the UK, or America — before 1900. [cite book
first = David J.
last = Skal
title = Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween
location = New York
publisher = Bloomsbury
year = 2002
pages = 34
id = ISBN 1-58234-230-X
] The earliest known reference to ritual begging on Halloween in English speaking North America occurs in 1911, when a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario, near the border of upstate New York, reported that it was normal for the smaller children to go street guising (see below) on Halloween between 6 and 7 p.m., visiting shops and neighbors to be rewarded with nuts and candies for their rhymes and songs. [Rogers, p. 76.] Another reference appears, place unknown, in 1915, with a third reference in Chicago in 1920. [Theo. E. Wright, "A Halloween Story," "St. Nicholas", October 1915, p. 1144. Mae McGuire Telford, "What Shall We Do Halloween?" "Ladies Home Journal", October 1920, p. 135.] The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show children but do not depict trick-or-treating. [For examples, see the websites [ Postcard & Greeting Card Museum: Halloween Gallery] , [ Antique Hallowe'en Postcards] , [ Vintage Halloween Postcards] , and [ Morticia's Morgue Antique Halloween Postcards] . G & L Postcards has published a CD-ROM with over 3,000 vintage Halloween postcards. Its editor writes, "There are cards which mention the custom [of trick-or-treating] or show children in costumes at the doors, but as far as we can tell they were printed later than the 1920s and more than likely even the 1930s. Tricksters of various sorts are shown on the early postcards, but not the means of appeasing them."] Ruth Edna Kelley, in her 1919 history of the holiday, "The Book of Hallowe'en", makes no mention of such a custom in the chapter "Hallowe'en in America." [Ruth Edna Kelley, "The Book of Hallowe'en", Boston: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Co., 1919, chapter 15, " [ Hallowe'en in America] ." Kelley lived in Lynn, Massachusetts, a town with about 4,500 Irish immigrants, 1,900 English immigrants, and 700 Scottish immigrants in 1920.] It does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930s, with the earliest known use in print of the term "trick or treat" appearing in 1927, ["'Trick or Treat' Is Demand," "Herald" (Lethbridge, Alberta), November 4, 1927, p. 5:

BLACKIE, Nov. 3—Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. 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.
"Halloween Pranks Keep Police on Hop," "Oregon Journal" (Portland, Oregon), November 1, 1934:
Other young goblins and ghosts, employing modern shakedown methods, successfully worked the "trick or treat" system in all parts of the city.
"The Gangsters of Tomorrow", "The Helena Independent" (Helena, Montana), November 2, 1934, p. 4:
Pretty Boy John Doe rang the door bells and his gang waited his signal. It was his plan to proceed cautiously at first and give a citizen every opportunity to comply with his demands before pulling any rough stuff. "Madam, we are here for the usual purpose, 'trick or treat.'" This is the old demand of the little people who go out to have some innocent fun. Many women have some apples, cookies or doughnuts for them, but they call rather early and the "treat" is given out gladly.
The "Chicago Tribune" also mentioned door-to-door begging in Aurora, Illinois on Halloween in 1934, although not by the term "trick-or-treating." "Front Views and Profiles" (column), "Chicago Tribune", Nov. 3, 1934, p. 17.
] and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939. [Doris Hudson Moss, "A Victim of the Window-Soaping Brigade?" "The American Home", November 1939, p. 48. Moss was a California-based writer. Interestingly, almost all pre-1940 uses of the term "trick-or-treat" are from the western United States and Canada.] Thus, although a quarter million Scots-Irish immigrated to America between 1717 and 1770, the Irish Potato Famine brought almost a million immigrants in 1845–1849, and British and Irish immigration to America peaked in the 1880s, [U.S. Bureau of the Census, [ Decennial Immigration to the United States, 1880–1919] .] ritualized begging on Halloween was virtually unknown in America until generations later.

Trick-or-treating spread from the western United States eastward, stalled by sugar rationing that began in April 1942 during World War II and did not end until June 1947. [ [,9171,773156,00.html "One Lump Please"] , "Time", March 30, 1942. [,9171,797966,00.html "Decontrolled"] , "Time", June 23, 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", [Published in Indianapolis, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois, respectively.] 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. ["The Baby Snooks Show", November 1, 1946, and "The Jack Benny Show", October 31, 1948, both originating from NBC Radio City in Hollywood; and "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet", October 31, 1948, originating from CBS Columbia Square in Hollywood.] The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney portrayed it in the cartoon "Trick or Treat", Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their television show, [" [ Halloween Party] ," "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet", Oct. 31, 1952.] and UNICEF first conducted a national campaign for children to raise funds for the charity while trick-or-treating. ["A Barrel of Fun for Halloween Night," "Parents Magazine", October 1953, p. 140. "They're Changing Halloween from a Pest to a Project," "The Saturday Evening Post", October 12, 1957, p. 10.]

Although some popular histories of Halloween have characterized trick-or-treating as an adult invention to rechannel Halloween activities away from vandalism, nothing in the historical record supports this theory. To the contrary, adults, as reported in newspapers from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, typically saw it as a form of extortion, with reactions ranging from bemused indulgence to anger. ["A. Mother", letter to the editor, "The Fresno Bee", November 7, 1941, p. 20::As a mother of two children I wish to register indignation at the "trick or treat" racket imposed on residents on Hallowe'en night by the youngsters of this city.… This is pure and simple blackmail and it is a sad state of affairs when parents encourage their youngsters to participate in events of this kind.Mrs. B. G. McElwee, letter to the editor, "Washington Post", Nov. 11, 1948, p. 12::The Commissioners and District of Columbia officials should enact a law to prohibit "beggars night" at Hallowe'en. It is making gangsters of children.… If the parents of these children were fined not less than $25 for putting their children out to beg, they would entertain their children at home."M.E.G.", letter to column "Ask Anne", "Washington Post", Nov. 21, 1948, p. S11:: I have lived in some 20 other towns and cities and I never saw nor heard of the begging practice until about 1936.… The sooner it becomes obsolete here the better. I don't mind the tiny children who want to show off their costumes, but I resent the impudence of the older children.Lucy Powell Seay, letter to the editor, "Washington Post", Oct. 29, 1949, p. 8::Another year has rolled around and the nightmare of having to put up with the "trick or treat" idea again fills me with dread.] Likewise, as portrayed on radio shows, children would have to explain what trick-or-treating was to puzzled adults, and not the other way around. Sometimes even the children protested: for Halloween 1948, members of the Madison Square Boys Club in New York City carried a parade banner that read "American Boys Don't Beg." [Recalled a decade later by Martin Tolchin, "Halloween A Challenge To Parents," "The New York Times", October 27, 1958, p. 35.]


In Scotland and parts of northern England, a similar tradition is called "guising" because of the disguise or costume worn by the children. Although traditions of seasonal guising stretch back at least as far as the Middle Ages [cite journal |author=Sarah Carpenter |title=Scottish Guising: Medieval And Modern Theatre Games|url= |accessdate=2008-10-06|journal=International Journal of Scottish Theatre vol. 2 no. 2|date=December 2001] , it became an exclusively Halloween practice only in the twentieth century. However there is a significant difference from the way the practice has developed in the United States. In Scotland, the children are only supposed to receive treats if they perform for the households they go to. This normally takes the form of singing a song or reciting a joke or a funny poem which the child has memorized before setting out. Occasionally a more talented child may do card tricks, play the mouth organ, or something even more impressive, but most children will earn plenty of treats even with something very simple. However, guising is falling out of favour somewhat, being replaced in some parts of the country with the American form of trick-or-treating. Such a practice is in use in certain regions of the United States, as well. Children of the St. Louis, Missouri area are expected to perform a joke before receiving any candy. [ [ Trick-or-Treat tradition spooks St. Louis residents] Truman State University Index 25 Oct. 2007.]

In modern Ireland there is neither the Scottish party-piece nor the American jocular threat, just "treats" — in the form of apples or nuts given out to the children. However, in 19th and early 20th century Ireland it was often much more extravagant — for example, slates were placed over the chimney-pots of houses filling the rooms with smoke and field gates were lifted off their hinges and hung from high tree branches.

Until the 1990s, Irish children said "Help the Halloween Party," but are now more inclined to use the American "Trick or treat" due to the influence of American popular culture, movies, and television. In Waterford, the phrase "attin far Halloween" is still commonly used, being the vernacular pronunciation of "anything for Halloween".

In Quebec, Canada, children also go door to door on Halloween. However, in French speaking neighbourhoods, instead of "Trick or treat?", they will simply say "Halloween", though in tradition it used to be "La charité s'il-vous-plaît" (Charity, please).

ee also

* Halloween costume
* Hop-tu-Naa
* Poisoned candy scare
* Samhain
* Fastelavn


Further reading

* Ben Truwe, "The Halloween Catalog Collection". Portland, Oregon: Talky Tina Press, 2003. ISBN 0-9703448-5-6. Contains a particularly well-documented history of trick-or-treating in America.

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