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Why do we celebrate Halloween with sweets and chocolate?

Halloween has become synonymous with trick or treating, more specifically, with sweets and chocolates.  Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve is celebrated all over the world on the night of the 31st of October.  Generally, these celebrations now involve groups of children dressed up in any given combination of bin liner capes, white face paint, plastic fangs and little sachets of ketchup to squeeze on gory demand. Traditionally, children wander from house to house, demanding ‘trick or treat!’ at every door.  Supposedly intimidated by the spooky brigades’ ‘tricks’ that may or may not be up the youngsters’ sleeves, householders normally hand out generous helpings of sweets and chocolates. If we dig a little deeper into the history of the celebration, the origins date back thousands of years, all the way back to Pagan times.

Historically, Halloween was celebrated to mark the harvest at the end of summer and with that, the onset of the dark winter.  The celebration grew to symbolise the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead.  It was believed that on this night, ghosts of the dead would revisit living earth.  In honour of this visitation, people would dress in costume and some would leave out food and drink to placate wandering spirits.  In the few hundred years that followed, some people began to dress up as ghosts and spirits themselves, performing and doing tricks in exchange for food.  This was known as ‘mumming’ and is thought to be a very distant cousin of today’s trick or treating.

Eventually, this tradition made way for other acts similar to the traditional harvest celebration of Samhain. In England, poor people would visit the homes of the wealthy.  They would promise to pray for the souls of the homeowner’s deceased family members in a practice known as ‘souling’. In payment, they would receive treats and cakes that were coined ‘soul cakes’.  Eventually poorer families would delegate their ‘souling’ duties to their children.  In Ireland and Scotland, these children would dress in costume and go from house to house singing and telling jokes in exchange for treats, this became known as ‘guising’.

Immigration then took the practice to the USA, who already celebrated Halloween with tricks, pranks and parties.  But both here and in the US, trick or treating as we know it really took off in the late 1930s, well into the 1950s.  In the early fifties,  a trick or treater could expect home-baked goods, fruits, toys or even coins when they knocked on doors but as the practice became more popular, households began to purchase sweets and chocolates to treat their little visitors on all hallows’ eve. Not only were sweets and chocolates practical and delicious, but they were also safer as they were often individually packaged, more grabbable and less likely to be tampered with.

The switch to sweets and chocolate was of cultural, practical design, to easily share out lots of treats for neighbouring children. It’s a far cry from the original efforts to satisfy the discontented bellies of the visiting dead!

Whether you'll be handing out tricks or treats this Halloween,  make sure you're stocked up on delicious treats to see you through the winter, we won't tell if you don't share...

(Featured image sourced here.)

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