Souling

Posted: October 29, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Trick or treat, baby?

“I don’t know how long I’ll be trick or treating. Maybe I’ll be 80 years old and still trick or treating.”~ Kieran Culkin

I went to research the different customs across the world of Halloween. I thought like many other holidays, that certain countries celebrated Halloween on different days and such.

 But my research was thwarted and I began to dig deeper on this custom of “trick or treating”.

The custom of going door to door dressed in a costume, or “guising” has been done in the USA probably long before the 1950’s.

I honestly didn’t believe in the fact that trick or treating was solely an American tradition or custom. And I was right.

Trick or treating resembles the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on ‘Hallowmas’ (1st of November) which is All Saints Day, receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (2nd of November). It originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy.

A Soul cake is a small round cake which is traditionally made for All Saints Day or All Souls Day to celebrate the dead. The cakes, often simply referred to as souls, were given out to soulers (mainly consisting of children and the poor) who would go from door to door on Hallowmas singing and saying prayers for the dead. Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from the depths of Purgatory. The practice of giving and eating soul cakes is often seen as the origin of modern trick or treating as we know it today.

So in general, the practice has been going on for centuries.

The custom of wearing costumes and masks at Halloween goes back to Celtic traditions of attempting to copy the dark and evil spirits or placate them, in Scotland for instance where the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white.

Modern traditions of trick or treating vary in its custom. In some places, children are required to perform or entertain with a joke or to sing a song before the treat is actually given to them.

So it isn’t uncommon for other places to actually have the children WORK for their treats.

After the age of ten, there was one house that I definitely had to work to get to the front door. The family always intended on scaring children to the end of their wits. But if they made it to the door, they were rewarded with their own can of their favorite carbonated beverages. (The husband worked for the Coca-Cola company at the time.)

I went when I was fourteen. I was rather successful. Then I tried again at sixteen and was turned away with the common response of “Aren’t you too old to be doing this?”.

I found it ironic to be asked that question when I was met at each door by an adult who was already dressed in THEIR OWN costume!! I thought “how ridiculous!”.

After that, I focused more on scaring the crap out of children that came to MY house looking for treats instead of begging for it. I just was never any good at it.

I would continue to dress up for Halloween throughout my teenaged years. But the older I got, the more I became lazy. Probably the last time anyone dared to ask me, “What are you dressed up as?”, my automatic reply was “A schizophrenic.” Some got it, others found it tasteless.

Definitely in the 21st Century, there are no children performing. The standard greeting of “Trick or treat?” is just followed by the dispersing of treats and then depending on whether the child is polite or not, a verbal “thank you” was given and then it was off to the next house to repeat the process until that home was emptied of its bounty. Or it got too late in the night and it was in fact a school night.

So yet again, the roots of tradition are quite fascinating. No child in America today is praying or singing for the dead for cakes, that is for sure.

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