An investigation into the odd American tradition.

By Meghan Overdeep
October 28, 2019
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A night in which hordes of costume-clad children roam their neighborhoods and demand candy from strangers might be America’s weirdest tradition.

At first glance, Halloween and sweet treats don’t seem to go together. How is it that spooky shenanigans and ghoulish figures became associated with children and candy?

Halloween has its roots in northern Europe, as the pre-Christian Celtic festival of Samhain. According to the History Channel, it’s when pagans gathered to light bonfires, offer sacrifices, and pay homage to the dead. Basically, it wasn’t the kind of celebration we’d associated with kids today.

But, by the ninth century, Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where it began blending with pagan traditions. In 1000 A.D. the church designated November 2 as All Souls’ Day, a time for honoring the dead. Celebrations, complete with bonfires and masquerades, still resembled Samhain.

As Sabina Magliocco, Professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, explained to 11Alive, it’s around that time that peasants began "souling," going door-to-door to beg for “soul cakes.” In exchange, they promised to pray for the souls of homeowners’ dead relatives.

“Bands of young men would disguise themselves and, under the pretense of being spirits of the dead, visit their neighbors and beg for a soul cake or an offering of drink,” said Magliocco. “Householders, sometimes fearing that one of the people in disguise might actually be a dead relative or ancestor, would comply.”

The practice was later taken up by children, who would go around asking for gifts such as food, money, and ale.

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European immigrants eventually brought the traditions to the United States, but unfortunately, Halloween soon became associated with a night of misbehavior. Halloween historian Lisa Morton told 11Alive that some neighborhood started having "house-to-house parties," to keep kids occupied.

After WWII’s sugar rations we lifted, candy companies began marketing their products as a suitable bribe to keep children from mischief. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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