Putting the “Trick” Back in Trick or Treat: The Origin of Everyone’s Favorite Halloween Phrase

published Oct 30, 2016
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(Image credit: MissNorbik)

Ask any kid what the best part of Halloween is, and they’ll most definitely say it’s trick-or-treating. Even though you might still don a clever costume each year, you probably grew out of the whole going around and collecting candy from strangers thing by the time you became a teenager, right? You may be old enough to buy your own treats, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put the “trick” back into the equation.

So first, some history—do you know where the idea of trick-or-treating came from? According to the History Channel’s website, trick-or-treating has a few origins. First, in England around 1000 A.D., when the Christian church celebrated All Souls’ Day on November 2, poor people went around to wealthier houses to get pastries called “soul cakes” in exchange for prayer—and act known as “souling,” which was later picked up by children. In Ireland and Scottland, however, kids participated in “guising,” in which they would dress up in costume and go around telling jokes, singing songs and reciting poetry (tricks) in exchange for fruit, nuts and coins (treats).

These traditions, along with celebrations of Guy Fawkes Day, seem to have contributed to the way Americans began to celebrate Halloween in the early 20th century. Eventually, around the 1920s, pranks became part of the trick-or-treat culture, causing a lot of costly damage during the Great Depression. Trick-or-treating then became more of a community organization until World War II, when sugar rationing meant putting a hold on Halloween candy—it wasn’t until after the war that kids could go back to trick-or-treating normally (and that candy companies could take advantage of it).

(Image credit: Chelsea Francis )

Harmless Halloween Pranks

Want to get into the Halloween spirit? Scary movies, haunted hayrides and pumpkin carving are all great ways to spend the holiday, but if you want to go back to your roots, you can always pull a fun, simple prank or two.

Note: By harmless, I mean they won’t damage anyone’s property or give anyone a heart attack—you may love them, but jump scares are definitely not for everyone (and vandalism isn’t cool). Try to be considerate with your pranks; sometimes cheesy is the way to go.

  • Put out a cute candy dish in your house for friends and family to enjoy—they’ll think it’s great until they realize you’ve mixed loose M&Ms and Skittles (ugh, gross).
  • Prank friends or neighbors by cutting eye-shaped holes in cardboard toilet paper rolls and sticking glow-sticks inside, then hiding them in their bushes to make it look like something’s watching them.
  • Rather than egging someone’s car (a mischief night staple prank that can cause costly damage to paint and is gross to clean up), cover it with post-it notes.
  • When you go to fill up your ice tray with water, secretly sprinkle in fake bugs or gummy eyeballs—the next person to get ice for their drinks will have a weird surprise waiting for them.
  • Go to your friend or neighbor’s house and swap out their jack-o-lantern with yours, then see how long before they notice the difference.
  • Invite friends over to decorate caramel apples, and pre-make some with onions instead of apples for some gross snack confusion. Since you’ll be decorating new ones (that are actually apples) it won’t be too disappointing.
  • Load up on funny items from the dollar store (like Halloween decorations, pinwheels, and inflatable toys) and cover your friend’s lawn with them in the middle of the night—then wait for their inevitably hilarious confused texts when they see it in the morning.

Re-edited from a post originally published 10.30.2016 – TW