The modern Halloween began as a Celtic pagan festival that marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the winter season, falling mid-way between the autumn and winter equinox (sunset October 31 to sunrise November 1). This was their New Years, and it was believed that during this transition from one year to the next, the realms of the living and the dead overlapped, allowing the dead to briefly roam the earth again. So the living would disguise themselves as devils and demons (wearing costumes and masks) to trick the evil spirits that they were one of them and thus would be left alone.
When Catholic missionaries came to Europe during the Middle Ages (around the 8th century) they tried to provide an alternative activity that would replace the pagan tradition with a “Christian” one. They came up with “All Hallows Even (October 31) and “All Souls Day” (November 1). At this time, children and youth would dress up as good spirits (saints or angels) going from door to door requesting food in exchange for doing songs and/or prayers on behalf of those residing in purgatory. This was called “souling” and the kids were known as “soulers”. An example of a song was,
“A soul! A soul! A soul-cake! Please, good Misses, 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, and three for Him who made us all.”
The treat was a baked item that became known as a Soul Cake. These were small round cakes with a cross marked on top that represented a soul being freed from purgatory when the cake was eaten. Soul cakes were sweet cakes, including such ingredients as nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and raisins. When Halloween moved across to England, souling eventually morphed into guising. In the early 1800s, adolescents, dressed up in assorted costumes, begged from homes things like fruit and money. In turn, the kids provided an amusement (joke, song, poem, instrumental, etc.) for the adults – everything but prayers. Then in the early 1900s Scottish/Irish immigrants brought Halloween to North America with “trick or treat” no longer meaning prayers or performances, but now pranks. The first recorded use of the phrase was in 1911 in Alberta.
The bottom line? According to surveys, adults in England hate Halloween the most, with over half turning their lights out and pretending not to be home. Yet another reason for Americans to be happy to be free from British rule – No Fun! (Just kidding, folks.)