The Secret History of Trick-or-Treating

The Secret History of Trick-or-Treating

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It’s Halloween and 12-year-old you is dressed up in the costume you’ve been begging your parents to wear every single day to school. You just spent the last 6 hours of the day in class trying to pay attention but your brain had other plans. 

Thoughts of decadent chocolate bars race through your head, the smell of sweet bonfire tickles your nose, and for a moment, you think you can hear the screams of children scaring one another in their monster masks. 

Before you know it, you’re there—walking down winding roads of your neighborhood, wandering up driveways on a mission for the most delicious treats you can get your claws on. House to house, your pillowcase becomes more packed with sweets ‘til it begins to drag on the asphalt below you. 

You peek into your snack sack to catch a preview of the confections you’ve collected over the last couple hours—metallic wrappers glisten in your eyes, corners of king-sized candy bars peek out the top of the pile as if they were begging to be chosen.

You shut the bag quickly, hoping nobody noticed that you got 3 extra Reese’s Pumpkins from the neighbor who knows your mom, and continue on this mission of building a candy kingdom inside your bedroom later that evening. 

When the tricking and treating concludes, you find yourself sprawled across the bedroom floor meticulously organizing each individual confection by name, color, and flavor. Sour candy goes here next to the lime green wrappers, chocolate goes over there by the shiny candy and peanut butter-filled sweets, and it goes on and on. 

Then comes the best moment of the night—the trade. The trade, or “exchange” as I like to call it, is a 10 minute period post-trick-or-treating where you and all of your monster friends banter and barter over which sweets you are willing to part ways with.

For some, this is the moment where they relinquish all the confections that make their toes curl, and covet the candy they love the most. For others, it’s a desperate attempt to get their hands on every single piece of one kind of candy—I was one of those kids, fighting tooth and nail to get all the Reeses.

When it is all said and done, you’re left with the remaining mound of candy you’ve worked so hard to collect and trade, and now it’s time to consume like the candy-eating creature you are on Halloween. 

This was Halloween when I was a kid. Sure, not all of us did the whole meticulous candy sorting thing (thanks mom), but I know for a fact the exchange of sweets between my sisters and I every Halloween night may or may not have led to a few high-pitched arguments. Nonetheless, when it was finished, we all were comforted by the sweet taste of candy we had craved for months. 

While reflecting on those childhood years of Halloween, it got me wondering—where did the whole idea of exchanging candy even come from?

Were people pitying all the young children who were deprived of sweets as a kid? 

Was there some type of cataclysmic event that spawned humans wanting to share sweets with one another?

As I pondered this question, I decided to do some research to find out exactly where this whole candy collecting concept came from and why we still do it today. To my surprise, the backstory is rather simple. 

The TLDR on why we share Halloween candy…

Halloween runs pretty deep in the history books originating as a pagan tradition known as Sahaim. It’s a celebration of the end of the harvesting season and the beginning of the dark period of the year—and don’t let me forget the festival of the dead. 

People, mostly scholars, note that there are other pagan traditions that mark the beginning of the winter and the dead, but Halloween has assimilated most of those traditions into its celebrations.

In these celebrations (back in the old days-we’re talking as early as the 9th century) people would dress up like the dead and walk around requesting pieces of cake from neighbors and friends—not a bad idea, right? 

These “pieces of cake” were known as soul cakes—small rounded cakes with a cross on top that symbolized a soul escaping from purgatory to heaven after being eaten. They weren’t the sweetest of treats one might assume, but they were sought after so much so that youth would often have to sing for them. 

If you want a taste of the songs these kiddos used to sing, check out this rendition courtesy of the band Sting. 

Fast forward a few centuries and the Catholic Church decided to take their hand at spooky celebrations and began adding religious holidays to the Halloween season—queue up All Saints Day, Allhallows Eve, and All Souls Day. Now, let us be clear, these holidays were not centered around candy, so there was no going to church and getting your hands on sweet treats while you were there. 

The United States didn’t fall back into more pagan practices on Halloween until the mid-modern century, where we began slinging sweets to one another from our front doors. T

The Great Depression brought the practice to a halt for a period of time (mostly because candy production was limited and people were poor) but Americans quickly picked the tradition back up because who doesn’t want to dress up and stuff their face full of free sweets?! 

Today, you can’t walk more than a few feet on Halloween without seeing a big bucket of candy on someone’s porch and some kids covered in creative costumes head to toe—say goodbye to dead costumes and soul cakes. 

While we might not sing for sweets anymore, and a simple trick-or-treat will do, Halloween acts as a night for people to step outside themselves, be something/someone they can only be once a year, and soak in the sweetness of the season. So what are you doing this Halloween? 

If you’re thinking about what sweets you want to serve up at the party, may we suggest heading over to our Halloween and Fall Candy aisles where you can find all our favorite treats for All Hallows Eve.

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