Trick or treat!” Are any words more delightful to utter as a child? From the smiling faces of neighbors filling my bucket with candy to getting to dress up and go out after dark, and possibly even visit a school carnival, Halloween was right behind Christmas and birthdays in my estimation growing up.
Choosing a costume was a ritual that began many weeks in advance. Would I like to be a ballerina? Maybe this year a cowgirl? When I was 3, I dressed up as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, who I pretended to be every day that year anyway. Mom made a puppy onesie for my 3-month-old sister, Mary, so that she could be my Toto. We posed for pictures before going out to trick or treat, but I remember not understanding why she couldn’t come. Couldn’t they see that she was an important part of my costume?
Perhaps the most absurd trick-or-treat outing occurred in my freshman year of college. A group of us dressed up — I as Dorothy again — and went door to door up and down the neighborhoods of Winston-Salem, having a marvelous time. Whenever anyone asked us how old we were, we simply responded, “freshmen,” letting them assume that we meant in high school!
Though the origins of the term “trick or treat” are unknown, the practice dates back more than 2,000 years to the ancient Celtic festival Samhain, celebrated on Oct. 31, when the dead were believed to return to Earth. People gathered to honor the dead with bonfires, sacrifices, and banquet tables, and some disguised themselves in animal skins to repel ghostly visitors.
Centuries later in the Middle Ages, a custom emerged called “mumming,” the precursor to trick-or-treating, in which people dressed up as malignant creatures and performed in exchange for refreshments. Around 1,000 A.D., the church deemed Nov. 2 as All Soul’s Day, and in the United Kingdom, celebrations retained their ancient Samhain roots. The poor could visit the homes of the wealthy to receive “soul cakes” in exchange for praying for the families’ dead relatives. This practice was later adopted by children, and the rest is history.
Whatever Halloween holds for you this year, I hope you have the opportunity to engage your inner child and enjoy the lighthearted fun of this holiday.
Happy trick or treating!