The tradition of children going door to door so they can trick or treat comes from a medieval practice in Great Britain.
In just a few more days children all over the country will take to the streets in their Halloween costumes to ring doorbells and shout, “trick or treat!” This custom is something that nearly every child eagerly awaits, probably almost as much as pouring over their spoils at the end of the night, and then of course eating the treats.
The tradition of trick or treating is rooted in the late medieval practice in Great Britain and Ireland called “souling.” Less fortunate people would go door to door on Hallomas (November 1) to receive food in exchange for singing or prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). Even before this people in the Middle Ages would dress up and beg door to door on holidays, like wassailing on Christmas.
The practice of wearing costumes dates back to Scotland in 1895 where it was called “guising” and was practiced as a way to trick evil spirits, or to placate them. The first recorded reference to guising in the North America was in 1911.
The practice of trick or treating in this country seems to have started in the 1930’s and the first use of the term “trick or treat” occurred in 1939. The custom stalled a bit during the 1940’s due to the sugar rationing that happened during World War II. But trick or treating started to gain popularity again after 1947 and the idea received national attention thanks to mentions on popular radio shows, features in children’s magazines, and then a depiction in a Peanuts comic in 1951.