As you cannot fail to have noticed, tomorrow is Halloween. And so the annual ritual of carving pumpkins, donning scary costumes and going trick or treating begins. But a question for many parents is, should I let my children go trick or treating?
As a child, my mum was very much against us going trick or treating and so I don’t think we ever did. I’m not too sure why she was so against it, I think because she thought it was more of an American thing to do. But, according to Wikipedia (the source of all knowledge!), the British have been “trick or treating” a lot longer than their American cousins. However, the actual phrase “trick or treat” did originate in America, back in the 1930s, and did not become popular in the UK until the 1980s, which might explain the thought that it is more of an American tradition.
The origin of Halloween itself does seem to be up for debate but the most common consensus is that it started life as a Celtic Pagan festival to mark the beginning of winter. And the name comes from “All Hallow Even”, the night before All Hallows Day (also known as All Saints Day). It seems though to have grown-up through a series of ancient traditions that have merged over the years to become what we now know of as Halloween.
For example, the “trick” element of “trick or treat” may well stem from Mischief Night, originally taking place on 4th November, being combined with Halloween. During this night boys would create all sorts of mischief, the chief mischief being putting things in wrong places.
There is also the belief that the “treat” aspect comes from an ancient European Christian custom called “souling” where people would visit people’s houses begging for soul cakes, in exchange for singing songs and saying prayers for the dead.
And what about the costumes? Well one possible origin is that people believed they would bump into ghosts and spirits if they left their house on Halloween and so would wear masks to trick the ghosts and spirits into believing they were one of them.
There are actually lots of other explanations for all the Halloween customs, from why we carve pumpkins to the history behind apple bobbing but I won’t list them all here – that’s what Google is for!
Having learnt about them though, would it sway my mind as to whether or not I should let my children go trick or treating? Probably not – for me, it’s a bit of fun and something the children look forward to each year. They get to dress up, have their face painted, get together with their friends and eat lots of sweets! And if I start devling into the origins of too many of our customs I may start to regret it – even bonfire night, long associated with Guy Fawkes and his foiled plot, may well have originally been a Halloween custom, with the Celts burning bonfires to frighten the spirits away with fire and noise.
So for me, I will let my children go trick or treating, just as I have previous years when, admittedly, I didn’t give it too much thought as to whether I should or not, it was merely another excuse for a social get together with friends!
Having said that, we are lucky where we live – we only visit houses of people we know and who we know are happy to be visited (some even get upset if we don’t!) We have not, as yet, had any trick or treaters visit us that have opted to trick us and more often than not they are very polite little ghosts and witches!
I may change my mind though if we ever move or as the children get older and it turns into something more than some innocent fun with their friends – or they start refusing to share their bounty with me!