Janet McGee Saunders
Founder & Top Cat, unltd.com

The True Origins of "Trick or Treat" (You'll Be Surprised!)

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Posted: over 8 years ago | Views (8559) | Comments (1)

First of all, Happy Halloween to one and all!


created at: 10/31/2015

Unbeknownst to many, the holiday of Halloween has its roots in the Catholic Church.  All Hallow's Eve is considered the "Vigil" of two Catholic Feast Days which honor the "Dearly Departed."  Novemeber 1 is the Feast of All Saints and is the day set aside to commemorate the lives and legacies of the Saints (including the Patriachs of the Faith from the Old Testament), those who are said by the Chruch to have already received their Heavenly Crown, the reward of Eternal Salvation, and admission to the Beatific Vision (the ability to communicate with God face to face).  November 2 is the Feast of All Souls and is the day where the Church and all who comprise it especially remember and pray for the faithful departed and for their collective release, if not already achieved, from Purgatory.

I told you it would surprise you.  Gets better.

Across medeival, orthodox, Catholic Europe ... it was impossible for "the folks" to separate out their respect for the dead (a Catholic duty) from the "old superstitious ways".  Old Tradition had it that the departed came back to visit from an eternal resting place called Summerlands for a time after the harvest, the time of the "Sanhaim Feasts".  As the Christian Faith took hold, Purgatory took the place of Summerlands.

The old ways blended into the new (it was another example of the Church sanctioning the transferral of established pagan custom into an acceptable and efficacious Christian replacement) and became firmly entrenched in the Catholic tradition.  Candles were lit on graves (to keep the bones warm and to let the departed know they weren't forgotten ... this is actually the origin of the "vigil "lights that are continuously being lit in honor of loved ones and in intercession in Catholic churches across the globe) and in the windows to "light the way home".  Fires were kept lit in hearths to provide a welcome and to keep the bones of loved ones warm during their brief sojourn with their families.  Food ... feasts ... were laid out in their honor.  It was a time for both merriment and prayer. 

Another tradition related to the "holy day" sprang up in Christian Britian ... a way by which the suffering and length of time endured by the departed in Purgatory could be vicariously alleviated by the living on behalf of their loved ones.  The means was almsgiving.  It took the form of cash for candles .... supporting the Church in exchange for blessed candles needed not only for the Vigil and Feast Days, but to be used for the entire year. 

Almsgiving also took the form of handing out small cakes as a treat and in gratitude for bands of "soul singers" or "soulers" who traveled about on All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day singing ancient "souling rhymes".  After the singing was done, small cakes were handed out to the "soulers" and they were eaten while everyone said a prayer for the dead of the respective household. 

An example of a medeival "soul rhyme":

A soul! A soul! A soul-cake!
Please Good Missus, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him who made us all.
(thereby also bringing the Holy Trinity into the equation...)

With the Reformation and its nixing of the idea of Purgatory came the notion that prayers were no longer needed for the passage of departed souls to Heaven.  The tradition of "souling" and the "almsgiving" stuck, however, in that it gave comfort to the families of those whose members had departed from this life.  When "soulers" did encounter a home where the tradition wasn't celebrated and there were no "soul cakes" or "treat" forthcoming ... the tradition of the small "trick" as payback was born.  Additionally, the ancient souling rhymes were replaced by straight-up begging chants.  Those chants would morph, over time, into the modern-day demand:  "Trick or Treat".

The soul-cakes of medeival times generally took the form of a shortcake or butter cookie.  They were round; this represented the idea of Eternity and Eternal Salvation ... the subject and "reason for being" of the Feast Days.  As a result (and we find this especially relevant here at unltd.com where our logo is the Infinity symbol), soul-cakes were also referred to as "infinity cakes".  The cakes were usually filled with one or many spices and dried fruits:  allspice, cinnamon, ginger, raisins, currants, etc.  Before they were baked, the cakes were topped with the mark of the Cross using small pieces of dried fruit.  The Cross signified the cakes being considered as alms. 

Before the "soulers" made their rounds on the Feast Days, families would themselves partake of and enjoy the cakes together with glasses of wine on the vigil of the Feasts, "All Hallow's Eve". 

Thus you have it ... the ancient Christian three-day Feast that became today's modern Halloween!

We here, at unltd.com, would love to know about your Halloween traditions.  Meanwhile, safe travels and keep the tricks to a mimimum, please. 

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Happy Halloween Top Cat!  May the Souls of the Faithfully Departed rest in peace!

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