Corkey Trivia: Trick or Treats on Halloween

Back in the 60s, on Halloween, our neighborhood was filled with kids of all ages traveling from house to house dressed in all kinds of costumes, some scary, some cute, some clever.  The pack of kids I roved with would chant, “Trick or Treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.”  I recall how muffled it sounded and how steamy if felt from behind my store bought mask.  Even back then I wondered, “Why are we doing this?”  Fortunately, I did not have to look very far for the answer in those days.  Obviously we did it to get as much free candy as possible!  My giant jar of candy would last me for months.

At the time, I had no idea that Halloween descended from ancient Celtic traditions.  A long time ago in Great Britain, the Celts celebrated their New Year Day on November 1st.  It marked the start of their long dark, cold winter.  It was a time associated with death.  It was believed that on the day before the New Year, the curtain between the living and the dead was lifted, and spirits roamed the earth.  People left offerings of food and wine outside their homes so that roving spirits would stop to eat and drink rather than attempt to enter.  People believed that if they walked outside on Halloween, they would encounter ghosts.  To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, they wore masks so that the ghosts would pay them no mind believing that they too were spirits.

Halloween was a time of ghosts, food, spells, and fortune telling.  This special day, October 31, was known as Samhain before Pope Gregory III laid the groundwork for it to be called All-hallows-eve and eventually Halloween.

The begging for gifts of food or money descends from feudal times when lords of the manor gave such gifts to those under their protection at the start of the new year.

In Shakespeare’s time, “going a-souling” meant begging for small breads called “soul cakes” in exchange for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives.  This practice was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money (In England, Ale was considered a healthier beverage than water in those days.)

In colonial America, the dour Puritans did not support the celebration of Halloween in New England.  Further south in Maryland and the Southern colonies it was celebrated more.  The Irish potato famine of 1846 brought, not only Irish Soda Bread, but also the celebration of Halloween transplanted from Irish and English traditions.  Americans began to dress up in costumes and travel from house to house asking for food or money.  Eventually this would become known as trick-or-treating.  It was actually Doris Hudson Moss who first coined the phrase in an article in American Home magazine in 1939.

A toast to the Irish, currently the second largest ethnic group in America.  They helped to spread Halloween festivities across our country and give all us kids a chance at free candy.  Gotta luv um.

The temptation is just too great; I must end with a wee Irish joke.  An Irishman arrived at Boston’s Logon Airport with tears streaming down his cheeks.  An airline employee asked him if he was homesick.  “No” replied the Irishman. “ It’s worse, I’ve lost all me luggage.”  “That’s terrible how did it happen?” “The cork fell out of me bottle.”  Cheers!

Tags: , , ,

  • http://www.humansuitproject.com Mervin Barton

    Great blog – I remember the sweaty mask and the “..smell my feet…” chant as well. Though I was raised in New Hampshire. Thanks for the wonderful history lesson on Halloween. Love the irish joke too – got some green in me I do. Cheers, Merv