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The oldest written record of the phrase “trick-or-treat” dates back to a 1917 newspaper from Ontario, Canada. It is believed that trick-or-treating, as we know it today, began in Ontario, where children dressed in costumes would go from house to house and ask for food or money while saying “trick-or-treat.”
However, the origins of trick-or-treating date back further to an 1800s Scottish and Irish tradition called guising. As part of this tradition, children would dress up in disguises and would go door-to-door asking for cakes, fruit, or money. Similar to jack-o-lanterns, they would carry carved out turnips or other root vegetables as makeshift lanterns to light their way.
This tradition of guising goes back even further to the Celtic festival of Samhain, a pagan celebration that marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It was believed that during this time the veil between the world and the afterlife was at its thinnest, allowing the souls of the dead to briefly pass over. To appease the souls of the dead, people would leave out food and drinks. Some would also disguise themselves as the dead to hide from malevolent spirits.
A&E Television Networks. (2019, October 23). How trick-or-treating became a Halloween tradition. History.com. https://www.history.com/news/halloween-trick-or-treating-origins
Flood, A. (2022, November 1). Origin of phrase “trick-or-treat” in print traced to the Sault. SooToday.com. https://www.sootoday.com/rooted/origin-of-phrase-trick-or-treat-in-print-traced-to-the-sault-6033664
Nalewicki, J. (2021, October 22). When people carved turnips instead of pumpkins for Halloween. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/when-people-carved-turnips-instead-of-pumpkins-for-halloween-180978922/