Trick or treat safety and etiquette are important aspects of ensuring a fun and harmless Halloween. Trick or treat has been a Halloween tradition in the United States since the 1920s, but the practice’s origins date back much further. To understand Halloween history and its traditions, like trick or treat, one must delve back to ancient Ireland and the ancient Celts. Ruth Edna Kelley wrote the first U.S. book about Halloween in 1919. She explored Halloween history, its pagan roots, and how at the early part of the twentieth century, these traditions were incorporated in America. The book is titled The Book Of Hallowe’en and is in the public domain. Ruth Edna Kelley described a Halloween celebration in America.
“While the original customs of Hallowe’en are being forgotten more and more across the ocean, Americans have fostered them, and are making this an occasion something like what it must have been in its best days overseas. All Hallowe’en customs in the United States are borrowed directly or adapted from those of other countries. All superstitions, everyday ones, and those pertaining to Christmas and New Year’s, have special value on Hallowe’en. It is a night of ghostly and merry revelry. Mischievous spirits choose it for carrying off gates and other objects, and hiding them or putting them out of reach.”
It was also around this time that the first children to actually say the words “trick or treat” while knocking on American doors began.
The ancient Celts believed the veil between the living and dead became thin around October 31. As summer faded away and fall appeared with new colors, winter’s death would soon be on the horizon. The ancient Celts held a festival that celebrated the harvest as they prepared for winter’s cruelty: Samhain. The ancient Celts would wear costumes and masks in order to keep evil spirits away on the night of Samhain. They also brought sacrifices and offerings to appease the gods in hopes that they would bestow blessings on their tribes make it through the winter. The Celts believed that ghosts or evil spirits would walk the earth on October 31, and had the power to bring either a trick or a treat. While many pagans didn’t actually say “trick or treat,” it is believed the practice stems from this belief that the spirits could bless or curse on Halloween night.
Over time, the Romans invaded the Celtic lands and brought their own practices, while incorporating the native traditions with them. The Romans worshiped the goddess Pomona, who was the ruler of fruits, orchards, and nuts. Traditions such as bobbing for apples are attributed to the Roman goddess. Still, throughout many European regions, children would enjoy dressing up in costumes and would go door to door and sing songs or recite poetry. While they didn’t say the words “trick or treat,” they did expect to receive a baked good in exchange for their friendly act. It is this practice that our modern form of trick or treat is believed to be derived from.
With the Roman conquest came the Christian invasion and, under multiple Pope successions, the desire to replace pagan customs, traditions, and religious celebrations with those that would appease the Catholic church. It was easier to keep pagan traditions and rename them than to try to do away with them entirely. October 31 was no longer Samhain but All Hallow’s Eve. November 1 would be the day to celebrate the dead who died in Christ: All Saints’ Day. The Catholic church had approved much of the ancient traditions and practices now that they were dedicated to the Christian church and not pagan gods.
In today’s generation, children around the world look forward to celebrating Halloween. Many countries have a similar holiday, and while customs and traditions may vary, American children are accustomed to wearing costumes, knocking on doors, and receiving candy when they say “trick or treat.” Most American children do not pull pranks or tricks, but there are a few rebellious youth who enjoy some form of trickery on Halloween.
While many Americans enjoy the “trick or treat” tradition, safety and proper etiquette are paramount to having a successful holiday experience.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a Halloween Safety Guide for parents who wish to ensure they look out for potential dangers and ensure a happy and safe holiday for their children.
Some health and safety tips that pertain specifically to the trick or treat experience include using reflective tape to ensure motorists can easily see children, to never trick or treat alone, but instead go in groups, and choosing Halloween costumes that are safe, easy to walk in, and non-flammable. Any accessories children wear with their Halloween costume, such as swords, shields, or knives, should be soft and flexible. Masks should never impair a child’s vision or make it difficult to breathe. Never immediately eat the candy collected when trick or treating, but take it home and examine it carefully. Though children are often excited to run to houses and yell, “trick or treat” at the top of their lungs, children should remain calm throughout the experience. They should use manners, say please and thank you each time they receive candy or treats, and never run to houses, but walk calmly. Children and parents should be aware of their surroundings and make sure they have adequate lighting. If necessary, bring flashlights or glow sticks.
While some people who give out treats may think they are going an extra mile to present home-baked goods, it is best for kids to only accept trick or treat candy that is wrapped in its manufactured packaging without any tears or rips. Unfortunately, many children have become sick and injured by unscrupulous people who would rather harm children than participate in trick or treat Halloween fun. A child’s trick or treat experience should never result in pain and suffering. Throw away any candy that is in a package that has been previously opened. Make sure shoes are durable and well fitting. Substitute sturdy shoes for those that are included with costumes if they will pose a walking hazard.
Halloween is one of America’s most important holidays. Children love to dress up, knock on doors, say “trick or treat,” and receive candy in return. It’s important that adults take the time necessary to ensure this long lasting tradition is also a safe and healthy one.
Check out these Trick or Treat safety, etiquette, and Halloween history videos below.
Halloween and Trick or Treat History
The Trick or Treat Workout
Trick or Treat That Isn’t Our Street
Martha Stewart: Reflective Trick or Treat Bags
[Photo by Mark Wilson / Getty Images]