Trick Or Treat & Halloween History

The history of Halloween, is it trick or is it treat? Was there poisoned candy? Take a look at this Holiday's history.

Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat. Can you believe that a holiday that inspires a song about feet smelling pulls in over 1.77 billion dollars every year? It's even more amazing to realize that the majority of that money comes from candy.

Halloween is a holiday full of fun and tradition. It's also full of origins. The precise lineage of Halloween as we currently know it, is unknown, what we have though is the knowledge of some basic centuries old customs that may have been precursors to Halloween traditions. One of the most important Halloween traditions is of course Trick or Treat. It's one time out of the year when children, adults and high powered executives all have the same thing on their mind: candy. Candy companies work hard all year to ensure that they earn a spot on your "Return List" (The Return List consists of all of those houses that you hit a second time because they are offering the good stuff).

To these companies, Halloween is the Superbowl, it gives them a chance to make new friends and treat old fans. It may sound like careful planning and it is, but Halloween wasn't always a "˜structured' holiday, it used to be a day when adults would loose themselves in fantasy and kids could run wild in the streets, but the rampant talk of razor blades in apples and drugged up candy twisted everything around. After much research by numerous organizations, it has been decided that all of this talk is just that, talk. Sociologist Joel Best has studied the tales and determined that there has never been any evidence that Halloween candy has been tampered with and distributed to strangers. Still the stories have persisted, partly fueled on by three isolated incidents:

1964 - A woman in NY handed out dog biscuits, steel wool pads and ant poison (which was clearly marked) because she was upset at so many older teenagers who came around.

1974 - A boy died from a cyanide laced Pixie Stix. It was determined that his father had intentionally poisoned him to collect on the insurance. He felt that he would get away with the crime because he believed the stories that this type of thing "happened all the time".

1982 - On the heels of the Tylenol Poisonings, 15 children and one adult become ill at a Halloween party. The cause was never determined. It is felt as if this was a copy cat crime.

Three sad cases fueled a public hysteria which led to the complete canceling of Trick or Treat in some areas while others had to follow much closer guidelines.

No matter what the "guidelines" are in each particular neighborhood, there is one constant, the Costumes. Dressing up has been around for as long as Halloween has, since the 5th Century BC. There are several schools of thought about how Trick or Treat came about. Everyone agrees that there was a Celtic Festival (called Samhain) that took place to celebrate the end of summer and the Celtic New Year. It was thought that on that night the laws of space and time would warp and the spirit world and the living could intermingle. Some believe that villagers, in an effort to frighten away any spirits looking for bodies and homes to posses, would dress up in "ghoulish" costumes and parade through the night. Others believe that the dressing up was done not so much to scare the spirits but to make them feel more at home.

These people would leave food out on their doorsteps for the spirits, hoping to ease the spirits journey through the night and in the process save their own houses. Mischievous children would dress up in costumes (as the spirits) and swipe the food from the doorstep. They got food, they were happy, the people thought the spirits had come and spared them so they were happy. Eventually homeowners figured out what was happening and stopped leaving food out, so the ever resourceful kids simply knocked on the door and begged for it, promising prayers for the dead in return. Another story places the origin of Trick or Treating on the Christian ritual of "˜Souling'. People would go door to door begging for Soul Cakes (flat, square breads). In return they promised to offer up prayers for any dead family members. As the cultures spread, these basic customs twisted and turned.

At the turn of the century, the basic costume was that of a ghost, simple, easy and recyclable. People started to get a little bored with these though so they moved into their closets and began dressing as whatever they had lying about the house, using hats, shoes, old clothes and rags to create what they could. Companies, always looking for the quick buck and ever eager to please, cashed in on the new fad and began putting together basic costumes to be sold at the dime store. Today we have masks of all types and shapes and costumes that seem to have a life of their own.

Halloween is the perfect holiday, it's a universal Mardi Gras allowing everyone to become for one day, what they have always dreamed about while literally partying in the streets. It's a time for the old to become young again and the young to try on a "˜grown-up' role. Halloween candy is so much more than chocolate and nuts, it's a great equalizer, a time traveler wrapped in cellophane. It allows us to see where we've been and where we may be headed.

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