The evolution of Halloween: Was it always about trick-or-treating?

By Kiran Munir

Staff Writer

Halloween this year was no different than any year. Traditional items like pumpkins, corn husks, and scarecrows, bats, and witches were commonly seen throughout the month of October in celebration of the holiday.

Houses were decorated with these items in an attempt to be the scariest much like at Christmas with light decorations. In fact, the total expenditure on Halloween items is reported to be above 5.8 billion.

The costumes worn on Monday conveyed the Halloween themes of death, evil, mythical monsters while abiding by the colors of black and orange.

Pumpkins were picked ahead of time from the local store or the pumpkin patch marked by the kids and carved by the parents. On Monday, kids dressed in scary costumes went from house to house saying “trick-or-treat” asking for candy, money, or small treat.

Haunted houses (including the one at BenU) were set up for the youngsters who wanted the adrenaline rush.

All these activities occur every year, but do we ever think about why we celebrate in this manner? How did Halloween originate? Is it only about dressing up in scary costumes and going around asking for candy, visiting haunted houses and telling scary stories?

Actually, the concept of Halloween can be traced back to the middle ages.  The act of trick-or-treating mimics the practice of “souling” when peasants would go around asking for food on Hallowmas (November 1).  The food was distributed in return for prayers for the dead on All Soul’s Day (November 2).

The holiday originated in Ireland, but by the early 20th century, guising and dressing up in costumes was widespread in Britain and Scotland. Records show that children guising and carrying lanterns made out of carved turnip went from door to door for coin, candy, or cake.

The phrase “trick-or-treat” was also recited back then. The “trick” part of the phrase referred to a hollow threat of damaging the property, if the house owner refuses to offer the “treat.” In the 21st century, this still may have happened to you as well (if you ever ran out of candy on Halloween night and had your house egged.)

Associations of items with Halloween, such as the ones mentioned above, formed over time. For example, the custom of pumpkin carving that we are all so familiar with actually originated Scotland. However, in Scotland, turnips were carved instead of pumpkins.  Pumpkins were actually new world crops, so pilgrims were the first ones to carve pumpkins instead of turnips.

Although Halloween has religious origins, most contemporary churches view Halloween as an enjoyable event for the kids to hoard candy and dress up, as their heart desires. Of course we all know that teenagers and young adults, like us, have our own way of celebrating Halloween, but that’s another story…