The tradition of going from door to door and recieving food can be traced back to Britain and Ireland, in the form of Souling. Souling is where the children and the poor would sing and say prayers for the dead in return for soul cakes on Hallowmas, November the 1st.
Soul cakes where tiny squares of bread with currants. The more soul cakes that the beggars would receive, the more prayers that they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors, on All Soul's Day. At this time period, it was strongly believed that the dead remained in a limbo state for a time after death, and that prayers could expedite a soul's passage to heaven. Similiar practices for the souls of the dead can be found as far south as Italy.
The pratice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays can be traced back to the Middle Ages. In the Celtic traditions, people would wear costumes and masks on Samhain, because it was thought that spirits, evil or good, would wander the earth because the veil between the living and the dead was very thin and the spirits could slip through, causing the living trouble.
Druids would walk to their rituals or ceremonies that they would perform on the night of Samhain in costume and masks as well. One tradition states that Druids would go from door to door asking for food for the ceremonies.
Let me make one correction here: There is rumour or bad publicity going around about the Druids use to go from door to door asking for virgins for their sacrifices. This is a rumour that is being passed by certain inviduals because of their fears and trying to convert people into their accepted orthordox religious organizations. There is no record stating or claiming that the Druids did do this on Samhain. This is a false statement.
Now back to souling. I'm off my soap box for now. LOL
Their is no record of any souling rituals being performed in North America. No one knows for certain when the idea or form of Trick-or-Treaing, as we know it today, took hold of North America. Now many children of other countries are accepting the American form of Trick-or-Treaing including Australia. The earliest record of the ritual begging on Halloween in North America occurs in a newspaper article dating 1911.
Many different countries has their own idea and customs of Trick-or-Treating.
In Scotland, the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white.
In Quebec, Canada, children going from door to door just simply say, "Halloween!"
In Sweden, children dresses up as witches on Maundy Thursday (Thurs. before Easter) while the Danish children go trick-or-treating on Fastelavn ( or the next day, Shrove Monday).
Norway, kids go between Christmas and New Years Eve.
In Scotland and parts of Northern England, a similiar tradition is called guising because of the disguises or costumes worn by the children, Children only recieve treats if they would perform for the households that they go to. Normally they would sing a song, recite a joke or a funny poem. Now the real talented kids would perform card or magic tricks or play some kind of instrument.
A Souling Song
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
God bless the master of this house, the mistress also
And all the little children who around your table grow
Likewise your men and maidens, your cattle and your store
we wish you ten times more
The lanes are very dirty and my shoes are very thin
I've got a little pocket I can put a penny in
If you haven't got a penny, a ha' penny will do
If you haven't got a ha' penny, the God Bless you.
record by Watersons & by Peter, Paul, and Marry
The soul cakes wasn't the only thing that the children would beg for. It could be pies, cakes, nuts, berries or breads. Sometimes these items would be used for the ceremonies for the next day. The idea of souling wasn't just for the accepted Orthordox religion at that time. Pagan children would also, before the invasion of Christianity, go from door to door begging as for foods for the night's ceremonies or the next day harvest festivals. When the invasion of Christianity took place and the church wanted to replace the traditions of Samhain with traditions of All Saint's Day, the idea of begging for soul cakes came about.
Tricking part came into play when no one would give a treat for their night's entertainment or for their door-to-door begging usually in form of stuffing peat down the chimney, breaking bottles on the ground to where it sound as if a window was being broke, letting the cattle or the horses out of the stalls or throwing pebbles on the roofs.
Not until the 20th century did the tricking become a little more serious; breaking windows, egging cars, toliet paper rolling yards, surprises in the mail boxes and the old trick of a burning paper bag of dog poop on the front steps.
In-fact in some parts of the United States, Halloween night has become known as the Devil's Night because kids or teenagers would go around setting fires to abandon buildings. Halloween in some states almost got out-lawed because of these dangerous pranks on Halloween night.
So now you know the past and origin of Trick-or-Treating, Have a fun filled Samhain/Halloween with your children. Maybe bake a few 'soul cakes' for your close friends when they come a-begging. Please if you trick for no treats keep it safe and fun, not dangerous, so that a holiday filled with our sacred traditons that has been passed down to us from the ol' country doesn't get out-lawed in the future.