A greeting used by kids all over the world, “trick or treat,” is comparable to ‘merry Christmas,’ around the holidays – but where did it come from? Well, according to historians, the phrase actually has Canadian roots and may have appeared in a southern Alberta newspaper for the very first time just over 100 years ago.
Before we really get into that though, it’s equally important to note how exactly the tradition itself came to be.
Previously celebrated on New Year’s, what we now call trick or treating was originally a Celtic celebration in which people of all ages would dress up in hopes of blending in with the evil spirits who roamed the earth.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, dark-age folk believed that because this celebration bridged the gap between the previous year and the next, it was the only time that demons could freely roam with the living.
By wearing a spooky face for the evening, the idea was that if in the presence of a ghoul, they’d be ignored because they were playing for the same team.
This, of course, didn’t continue after the Catholic church rolled into town.
It took them some time, but eventually, this more ‘sinister’ event was put to rest, and “All Saints Day,” took its place. Also known as “All Hallows Eve,” this celebration was similar in the sense that people still dressed up, but as angels or saints instead.
As for the door-to-door bit? Sadly, this was only introduced a while later because those who were less fortunate would use the day as an opportunity to ask their neighbors for food in exchange for songs or prayer.
Like so many other traditions, this one fell off society’s radar – until 1920 when it re-emerged before WWII.
So what about the age-old phrase? Well, it’s heavily debated, but according to the Smithsonian Mag, this is how the story goes.
Though it was described years prior by publications like Saskatchewan’sThe Leader-Post in 1923 as a night of treats, tomfoolery, and tricks, it was actually a November 1924 article in the Red Deer Advocate where we first saw the term as we know it now.
“Hallowe’en night was observed in the usual manner by the young “bloods” in Penhold. “Fun is fun, and tricks are tricks,” but when such public buildings as school and Memorial Hall are molested with no option for “Treat or Trick,” we can not see where either fun or trick is enjoyed by the participants,” the reporter wrote according to Merriam-Webster.com.
Interestingly, Wikipedia claims that the first printed use of ‘Trick or Treat’ came from Blackie, Alberta, in 1927, an inclusion that is also on the Merriam-Webster page. So, either way, the prairie provinces were leading the trick-or-treating wave.
So there you have it. Turns out, not only is Alberta responsible for Ginger Beef, the Caesar, and the portable urinal – they’re also responsible for one of the most well-known phrases in modern history.
Now go forth and dazzle everyone with this new information – then thank us when it makes you the most interesting person at the dinner table. Happy chatting!