They say the first documented use of the words “trick or treat” appeared in an article that ran on November 4, 1927.

Photo by Conner Baker on Unsplash
Photo by Conner Baker on Unsplash
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Reflecting on his town’s recent Halloween, a Canadian newspaperman wrote…

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“The youthful tormentors were at the back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word ‘trick or treat’ to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing”.

Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash
Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash
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The tradition goes back much, much further than one might think.  In the middle ages, people (not just children) would go door to door asking for biscuits called “soul cakes” on Allhallowtide, that is, Halloween. The practice might be called Souling or Guising, depending on the time and place.

Before it was tied to the Christian faith via All Hallows Eve (aka The Night Before All Saints Day”) it was widely practiced by pagans as “Samhain” (aka the thing the weird little witch girl in “Trick-r-Treat” keeps going on about).

Whatever it’s called, the practice has a few commonalities:  Dress up or disguise oneself, go around asking for free stuff, something-something about the dead and it should be sometime around October 31st.

Here’s a historical account of a practice that has almost ALL of these elements…and it reportedly was already a tradition 600 years before Christ was born.

Photo by Antonio Gabola on Unsplash
Photo by Antonio Gabola on Unsplash
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The ancient Greek writer Athenaeus of Naucratis wrote that in ancient times (well, even MORE, ancient times) children on the Greek island of Rhodes would dress up (check) as birds and go door to door (check) demanding food or coins (check and check) with the threat of causing mischief if they didn’t get anything (CHECK!).

So, that’s basically modern trick-or-treating but with way more birds and way fewer Spidermen.

There’s nothing in Athenaeus’ account that placed the practice around October 31st but, other than that, this pretty much ticks all the boxes. It’s not hard to imagine little Neanderthal kids going cave-to-cave dressed up as Homo Sapiens and asking for a dead weasel or whatever kids back then liked to eat.

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