Halloween has a complicated history, and in America the spooky treat filled day is the result of a mix of cultural and religious practices, and civic and commercial influences. The 18th century immigrants, most notably the Irish and Scottish, mixed traditional practices. Then they added a splash of Spanish, German and Native American flavors, creating a unique American Halloween cultural experience. At the heart of modern American Halloween is the “treat” in trick or treat. Today Americans spend more then $3.9 billion on candy during Halloween. But why? How did the treat sharing of treats start?
It turns out that the idea of treat giving to kids on October 31st was not a capitalistic conspiracy cooked up by the candy enterprises and the American Dental Association. Way back in the Middle Ages people would leave wine and bread outside the doorway on “All Saints Day” as an offering to roaming spirits of the dead. The Catholic church frowned on that idea. Instead, the church encouraged folks to give out cakes to people during the “All Souls Day” parades. Soon people would go door to door asking for the cake, or ale, or any other treats. This practice was called “going a-souling”, and the “soulers” would pray for the households’ deceased relatives in exchange for the cakes.
Singing for Treats
So, in place of our mass marketed pre-packaged candy the “soulers” of old received little round shaped cakes. Bakers sometimes added raisins for flavor, and eventually it was common to cut crosses in the tops. They even had their own song (lyrics below) to sing, not quite “trick or treat”, but it got the job done! Catholic Cuisine has a great recipe if you want to give it a go.
Soul, Soul, a soul cake!
I pray thee, good missus, a soul cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
three for Him what made us all!
Soul Cake, 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.