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October 18, 2021 3 min read

Most of us view trick or treating as an American tradition, which didn't become popular in Britain until the 1980s. Butthe Halloween custom actually has Celtic roots, and the story behind it is pretty creepy. This is the history of trick or treating…

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago, mostly in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1.

This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they're-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

History of trick or treating

Trick or Treating started on this side of the pond in Ireland, Scotland and Wales and involved people dressing up and going door to door asking for food. People would say poems or sing songs in exchange for food, this tradition evolved into children saying prayers in return for ‘soul cakes’ in the 11th century. The soul cakes were sweet with cross tops, similar to hot cross buns, and were intended to represent a spirit being freed from purgatory when eaten. By the 19th century, this had evolved into a tradition where children would sing songs, tell jokes and read poems instead of prayers for pieces of fruit and money. Later, the children would play threatening pranks on people to get them to hand over sweets.

Where does the pumpkin tradition come from?

During Samhain, children carried lanterns made out of hollow turnips and went to homes asking for treats.During the festival, Gaels would carve turnips to ward off spirits from getting into their houses. When Irish immigrants came over to America in the 1840s, they could not find turnips to carve and instead they used pumpkins

Protect your children's teeth from Halloween candy!

When children brush their teeth after they eat sweets, it provides the best way to immediately get rid of plaque and bacteria. If you choose to do so, make a deal with your child. If they want to eat sweets more often throughout the day, they need to brush their teeth every time afterwards. If your kids can’t brush their teeth after they eat their sweets, how about offering them a piece of sugarless chewing gum? This will increase saliva production and remove food particles.