Trick or Treating in the UK

Almost all pre-1940 uses of the term “trick-or-treat” are from the western United States and Canada. Trick-or-treating spread from the western United States eastward, stalled by sugar rationing that began in April 1942 during World War II and did not end until June 1947. 

Magazine advertisement in 1962

Early national attention to trick-or-treating was given in October 1947 issues of the children’s magazines Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities, and by Halloween episodes of the network radio programs The Baby Snooks Show in 1946 and The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1948. Trick-or-treating was depicted in the Peanuts comic strip in 1951. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney portrayed it in the cartoon Trick or Treat, and Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their television show. In 1953 UNICEF first conducted a national campaign for children to raise funds for the charity while trick-or-treating

Despite the concept of trick or treating originating in Scotland in the form of guising, the use of the term ‘trick or treat’ at the doors of home owners was not common until the 1980’s. Guising is devoid of any jocular threat, and according to one BBC journalist, in the 1980’s it was still often viewed as an exotic and not particularly welcome import, with the BBC referring to it as “the Japanese knot-weed of festivals” and “making demands with menaces”.  In Ireland before the phrase “trick or treat” became common, children would say “Help the Halloween Party”. Very often, the phrase “trick or treat” is simply said and the revellers are given sweets, with the choice of a trick or a treat having been discarded.

English: A typical Halloween "trick or tr...

English: A typical Halloween “trick or treat” party in Dublin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 GUISING

In Scotland and Ireland, “guising” — children going from door to door in disguise — is traditional, and a gift in the form of food, coins or “apples or nuts for the Halloween party” (in more recent times chocolate) is given out to the children dressed up in various costumes. The tradition is called “guising” because of the disguises or costumes worn by the children. In the West Mid Scots dialect, guising is known as “galoshans”.  Among the earliest record of guising at Halloween in Scotland is in 1895, where masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips, visit homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. Guising also involved going to wealthy homes, and in the 1920s, boys went guising at Halloween up to the affluent Thornton Hall ,South Lanarkshire.  An account of guising in the 1950s in Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, records a child receiving 12 shillings and sixpence having knocked on doors throughout the neighbour-hood and performed. There is a significant difference from the way the practice has developed in North America with the jocular threat. In Scotland and Ireland, the children are only supposed to receive treats if they perform for the households they go to. This normally takes the form of singing a song or reciting a joke or a funny poem which the child has memorized before setting out. Occasionally a more talented child may do card tricks, play the mouth organ, or something even more impressive, but most children will earn plenty of treats even with something very simple. Often they won’t even need to perform. While going from door to door in disguise has remained popular among Scots and Irish at Halloween, the North American saying “trick-or-treat” has become common.

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