The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts and evil spirits.

In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1st  as a time to honour all saints.

Soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the Celtic traditions of Samhain.

In modern times, Hallowe'en has become synonymous with children dressing up and going door to door trick or treating, and the tv being full of scary films and TV adverts for the event. Starting in September, supermarkets and shops are full of themed sweets and chocolates trying to make the most of this one-day event.

But why do we dress up and give out treats?

Halloween is now celebrated all over the world on the 31st of October.

These celebrations usually involve groups of children dressed up in bin liner capes, white face paint, plastic fangs, and little sachets of ketchup to squeeze as fake blood on demand. Traditionally, children wander from house to house, demanding a treat or they will perform a trick!, and supposedly intimidated by the spooky visitors’ ‘tricks’ that they may or may not have planned, homeowners normally hand out sweets and chocolates to send them away happy.

The Origins

Origins date back two thousand years to Celtic times to the ancient festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived mostly in the area that is now UK, Ireland, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1st, which marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter; that time of year that was often associated with human death.

Celts believed on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

To honour this visitation, people would dress in costume, and leave out food and drink to please wandering spirits. 

In the few hundred years that followed, people began to dress up as ghosts and spirits themselves, performing and doing tricks in exchange for food. 

This was known as ‘mumming’ and is thought to be a distant cousin of today’s trick or treating.

Eventually, this tradition made way for other acts like the traditional harvest celebration of Samhain where poor people would visit the homes of the wealthy. 

They would promise to pray for the souls of the homeowner’s deceased family members in a practice known as ‘souling’.

In payment, they would expect treats and ‘soul cakes’. 

Eventually families delegated their ‘souling’ duties to their children. (The children should bring the goodies home to parents, who knew?)

In Ireland and Scotland, children would dress in costume and go from house to house singing and telling jokes in exchange for treats; this was known as ‘guising’.

By the early fifties, a trick or treater could expect to receive home-baked treats, fruits, toys, or even coins when they knocked on doors, but as the practice became more popular, eventually households began to buy sweets and chocolates to treat their spooky visitors on All hallows’ Eve.

Not only were sweets and chocolates practical and delicious, but they were also safer as they were often individually wrapped to protect them from all the grubby little hands.

It’s a far cry from the original efforts to satisfy the discontented bellies of the visiting dead!

Why not try making soul cakes with the kids this year? Here's my recipe

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