A Brief History of Trick-or Treating

Candy has substituted potatoes, apples, and nuts as the “currency” of halloween in modern day.

For centuries, Halloween has been recognized as a night full of mysteries. Among the numerous spooky Halloween traditions, such as carving pumpkins and visiting haunted attractions, is trick-or-treating — one of the most popular traditions among children. This famous Halloween activity has an intriguing and curious history that many people are unaware of.

There are various explanations for the origin of this custom. The most prevalent belief is that Celtics celebrated the festival of Samhain because they believed that souls of the dead would return to the earth on Samhain, a day marking the beginning of winter. They disguised themselves in costumes to ward off ghosts and offered food to appease those spirits. In the Middle Ages, Mummers play performed door-to-door. In Ireland, Scotland and Britain, people wore exaggerated costumes to perform in exchange for food and drinks.

In terms of treats, instead of candy, apples, nuts, potatoes and vegetables used to play a much more significant role hundreds of years ago. Apples and nuts were the guest of honor at celebrations such as Snap Apple Night and Nut Crack Night, respectively, which were held throughout northern Europe. In some areas of Canada, children say “Halloween apple” instead of the classic “trick-or-treat.” Potatoes were sliced, diced and mashed into a variety of dishes, such as “colcannon” with cabbage and kale, “champ” loaded with butter and “boxty pancakes” whipped with eggs. In the United States, vegetables, especially pumpkins, were made into lanterns and left in windows to pray for wandering souls at night. However, the pumpkins were not eaten. Instead, they made pumpkin cheese, pumpkin pie or sweet pumpkin, and dried the seeds as snacks.

The custom of trick-or-treating still varies in different regions all over the world to this day. As anything is possible when it comes to Halloween treats in the modern day, WSN spoke to NYU students to find out what their ideal treats would be.


LS freshman Julienne Chings wanted a very specific sugary dessert as a Halloween snack

“Given a chance to choose, I would prefer bloody creme brulee as a Halloween treat,” Ching said.

CAS freshman Alex Bradford said he wants innovative treats for Halloween.

“I am not really into those historical Halloween treats,” Bradford said. “I am a chocolate person, so anything chocolate I will eat. For example, caramel apple dipped in white or milk chocolate sounds interesting to me.”

No matter what kind of treats people prefer, the most important thing for Halloween is to enjoy the festive atmosphere on the last night of October. And remember, when you’re asked the question, “Trick or Treat,” always pick treat.

Email Sherry Yan at [email protected]



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