22 October 2012

Trick Or Treating In England

Posted By Happy Homemaker UK

In Ireland and Britain
during the Middle Ages on Hallowmas { November 1 }
 people went door-to-door in costume
receiving food in return for prayers for the dead

Fast-forward to 1895
for the first record of 'guising' in Scotland,
where children in disguise visited neighbors

performing a poem, song, or joke
to receive cake, fruit or money for their efforts
{ practiced later in Ireland too }

They carried lanterns made of scooped-out turnips
{ which was on the menu the following day }

First record of guising in North America was in

Some point before 1940, guising evolved to 'trick-or-treating'
on Halloween night in the western US and Canada

Although this annual US event of
asking for candy without a performance was stalled
by sugar rationing from 1942-1947 due to World War II,

trick-or-treating picked up steam
with the mass production of costumes
and attention given to it in children's magazines and radio shows

firmly establishing it in American pop culture by 1952

Halloween has a really fun vibe to it 
and is generally loved by everyone
in the US

It's a time
for parties in classrooms and among adults,
for catching up with neighbors,
for giggly teenagers to scare themselves at staged haunted houses
{ I haven't seen those here }

Carving pumpkins is an American tradition, as pumpkins are native to America
{ and bigger than turnips }

'Trick-or-treating' in England is viewed as an American export
and not necessarily a welcome one

In 2007 the BBC News wrote
the 'authentically ancient festival' of Halloween
'has been hijacked by trick or treating' 
and cited
the 1986 House of Lords debate about
 trick-or-treating being not a tradition, 
but American for begging
{ Yikes! }

Seasonal decorations displayed on house exteriors is considered 'in bad taste'
so we have festive window stickers at the back of the house
{ plus some spooky fake [and real] cobwebs hanging inside }

a giant blow up ghost popping out of a pumpkin
would never be seen in front of someone's home here as
1) electricity is too expensive
2) you would be calling attention to yourself

Halloween is more of a dark occasion here,
which makes the older generations nervous about bad behavior
in a society that closely guards its privacy

My first year I saw 'No Trick Or Treaters Here' fliers distributed for posting on doors

To indicate trick-or-treaters are welcome at a home,
a pumpkin or lit candle will be outside the front door

However each year there seems to be
increased lightening and acceptance of this event

evidenced by more Halloween displays in store windows
and more aisle space dedicated to bagged candy, costumes, and knickknacks

Although most English parents never trick-or-treated as children,
it is catching on and their children are enthusiastic about it

Children's costumes are scary or gory
- skeletons, witches, ghouls -

never 'cute' like a puppy dog
or Disney characters
{ that would be seen as bizarre }

Many houses have spooky 'fog machines'
{ well, ventilation for boilers, actually }

I noticed trick-or-treat bags are quite small,
humbly not wanting to seem greedy
{ some Americans bring pillowcases to fill in the US }

English neighbors typically give one piece of candy or one coin

Our street is filled with elderly neighbors,
so I expect none of them will be participating

We will seek a street with more family homes

American readers are probably thinking
how nice it must be to avoid the heavy commercialization of Halloween,

but with no Thanksgiving in England
you can bet Christmas paraphernalia has been for sale since the beginning of October!

Happy Halloween, y'all :)

- all photos by me -

Source: Wikipedia 123BBCRampants Scotland


greenthumb said...

It's not a big thing in Australia also, but some of the children do like to dress up and trick or treat, as mine dose.

Ola said...

we don't celebrate it here although I like pumpkin decorations very much:)
Blog about life and travelling
Blog about cooking

Crafty Helen said...

Happy Halloween to you too! With an American husband we REALLY celebrate Halloween. We live in a small close and many of our neighbours now decorate too. I have been told that our road is the place to go! At one point last year there must have been 100+ visitors milling around, with the children having a whale of a time, and the adults congratulating the homeowners on our decorations/smoke machines/music etc. Come and celebrate Halloween with us! XX

Iota said...

You sum it up very well. I will miss trick-or-treating.

I think that in the UK, the increasing celebration of Hallowe'en is somehow getting bound up with Bonfire Night (November 5th). They're just too near together!

Happy Homemaker UK said...

Oooh, you have no idea how we'd love to come :) Sounds like a proper American Halloween in the UK :)

Happy Homemaker UK said...

Great point - we look forward to Bonfire Night - our newest tradition :)

Sarah @ Modern Country Style said...

We don't celebrate Halloween. I never liked the idea of children being encouraged to participate in something that is genuinely 'dark'.....BUT, since I started blogging, I have seen the family-fun side of it in America...so I feel a bit unsure about the whole thing....


Gillian said...

Such an interesting post. I've been thinking a lot about this lately. We never went trick or treating when I was a child, we didn't really celebrate Halloween at all. Bonfire night on Nov 5th was always a much bigger deal and where the fun was to be had. But it's becoming bigger and bigger here each year. I always think only knock at houses displaying a pumpkin - you can't go wrong that way!

TexWisGirl said...

thank you, again, for another culture comparison. :)

Vintage Sheet Addict said...

My two usually go trick or treating but its only a half hour event, usually to a a street nearby which dresses up its houses! What I really miss is the absence of carol singers at Christmas. My friends and I used to go out singing carols from door to door, the week before Christmas. We alway sang at least 2 carols, finished by We Wish You A Merry Christmas! If we got a slot in the local pub we made enough money to buy all our Christmas pressies! Ada :)

The Snowdrop Project said...

Hi Laura,
We were in St Johns Wood last year(where lots of Americans live), on Halloween.
It was great fun seeing the kids dressed up, knocking on doors trick or treating.
Out here in the country, we don't have any trick or treating- too dangerous on the dark country lanes I think.
Hope you have fun,
Liz x

likeschocolate said...

How interesting that it is not seen in good light given the origins started in England! Guy Fox is next-right.

Victoria said...

We never trick or treated in England, in fact I have no memory of Halloween there at all. We moved to Canada in Sept. of 76 and our first Halloween there, a neighbor offered to take my brother and I trick or treating with his son so my mom threw together costumes for us...holy heck, I remember it being one of the most mind blowing experiences of my childhood! We filled up plastic bags and had to come home for pillow cases so we could head back out.

I raised my boys in So Cal and door to door trick or treating seems to be slowly dying out there. I think a lot of people favor the malls or school events now. We now live in Florida so I'm curious to see if we get any kids at the door!

Ali said...

Its done all most not at all here in the Midlands. But being Canadian, I buy a pumpkin for carving and do some decorating. I've converted my British born hubby too! I was once told Halloween was "that ghastly American holiday", which only reflects people ignorance about the origins of Halloween.

I wanted to ask if you!find the U.K. definition of a "large" pumpkin funny. I was home for a visit in September and took some photos of "large" pumpkins. ;)

Elizabeth@ Pine Cones and Acorns said...


I am sure that it is a challenge some days when traditions from home are not celebrated. I guess the wonderful part is that there are so many fabulous traditions, and rich history in England.

I hope you find a place to celebrate with your kids.

Have a great day, Elizabeth

Laura said...

My girls love Halloween. They are (bizarrely) dressed as Disney Princesses (even though the hubby pushed for something more original, offering 'Zombie Princess'). I have to say, I love the fact that they decorate the outside of the house up in the US. Although the Brit in me keeps it tasteful with a few wooden pumpkins, lanterns and pumpkins on the steps. I love that the garden is coloured with 'Mums' or Chrysanthemums as I used to know them. Although commercialisation borders on the insane here... I always remind myself that it was while visiting my dear old Blighty that I saw 'Handbag Toilet Rolls... Literally, a toilet roll, only a 1/8th full, marketed toward the ladies on a night out or at festivals!!

Barbara said...

They don't celebrate it here in France so the Americans always get together for a big Fete d'Halloween.

crumpetsincamelot said...

How interesting! I had an elderly lady in a charity shop tell me (as I was purchasing a costume last year) "You know Halloween is from [in a dark whisper] THE IRISH -- don't you?" I wasn't sure if it was better or worse for the holiday to have an American or Irish connection, in her view. I have seen some goofy costumes in Sainsbury this year -- spiderman, mini mouse -- but mostly very boring& repetitive (to my American eye) witches, skeletons, and ghosts. Fancy dress of all kinds is so common here, why not for Halloween?? I miss a big pumpkin patch, hayride, warm cider, and a good corn maze!

Noelle the dreamer said...

And I learned yet a thing or two! Thanks for sharing!
Halloween is still frowned upon by ex-RAF hubby after decades yet it has become our daughter's favourite holiday! She prefer 'spooky' to 'cuteness,!
A warm hello from the Pacific NW coast,

Gesci said...

I have to say, I'm not a fan of Halloween and never have been. No particular reason that I can think of, unless it's my extreme dislike for the color orange! But I was quite thrilled to learn there wasn't really trick-or-treating in England. We lived in a rather pension-aged village, so we really didn't have any. When we lived in a regular suburban neighborhood in the States, our dog (who usually LOVES children above all else) was quite terrified of the ones who came to the door, so the entire Halloween evening of doorbell/knocking + costumed children was a rather terrible night for us. We became the people who turned out all of the lights and hid in a back room! We're back in a suburban neighborhood now, and I'm dreading it. I hate to be 'that' neighbor who doesn't participate so soon after our arrival!
Hopefully you find a festive neighborhood- good luck!!

~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

So interesting the differences. We enjoy the trick or treaters and yes catch up with the neighbors before winter keeps us all inside. Enjoy what you can. BTW---awesome photos!!!!!

Privet and Holly said...

Super pictures, Laura.
I love the one of the
cemetery, especially...

I hope that your little
goblins find a great
street to haunt! We
are now at the ages
of no more trick or
treating, just parties
the weekend before

Have fun!

xo Suzanne

Emily said...

Love the spider-web photo!

The kids and neighbors are filling in most all the WIzard of Oz characters this year. FUN!

Emily said...

p.s. Do the British have Harvest Festivals like we do here in America? I don't think we've experienced an autumn without attending at least one Harvest Festival.

50 and counting said...

Halloween is dying out in my area due to one neighbour. He builds a haunted village in his backgarden and then invites all of his church friends and their friends to come to it. The first year we were in this house we had candy for the normal 60 odd kids. Wrong, we had over 300 people at our door.

I now understand why everyone in my cul de sac goes out on the 31st. It's too expensive to treat 300+ children.

I grew up both in Scotland and Canada and honestly prefer Bonfire night.

ann said...

How disappointed are your kids? I crack up at the carved turnip. Halloween can be such fun for kids, but it was never really my favorite, especially because I was not good at coming up with costumes. Loved the spider web photo and the great history lesson.

Happy Homemaker UK said...

That's so great! I haven't seen any door-to-door caroling here. How great that you are good enough to sing in public!

Happy Homemaker UK said...

Wow! That's a creative idea! Never seen those before - just ripe for a blog post :) I asked for 'mums' at the garden centre, forgetting that meant 'mothers'. Quickly changed that to chrysanimum to get pointed in the right direction :)

Happy Homemaker UK said...

Yes, there are autumn festivals, but no hayrides. Also it the time for alcoholic cider, which was new to me. As a few have mentioned, you can start to feel Bonfire Night is on its way in a few weeks.

Happy Homemaker UK said...

Trick-or-treating season definitely makes the kids most nostalgic for home. At this point it is about managing expectations :)

PURA VIDA said...

wow...such an interesting historical post!

Dave D said...

As a kid in England, I remember that Halloween was combined with bonfire night and consisted mainly of apple bobbing and jacket potatoes cooked in the bonfire. Yes, trick or treating is looked on by a lot of the "older" population as a horrible American import but I think that's mainly to do with the local drunken yobs going around threatening householders if they don't give them some sweets or preferably money.

Wendy said...

Halloween was big for me growing up in the U.S. but my son isn't in to it, which is fine with me...This year he said he didn't want a costume and he didn't want to go trick or treating either...I'm breathing a sigh of relief. I've always made his costumes and it's a big undertaking, this year I get a break!

koralee said...

Wow...this is so interesting. As a Canadian we have always celebrated Halloween but I am finding it is getting too much now a days with all the blood and gore costumes and decorations...what ever happen to cute carved jack-o-lanterns?

Andrea@Familyconnect said...

I never went trick or treating as a child, and Halloween isn't something we bother with much now. But I do remember that as a child those great big pumpkins were never seen in shops around us. Instead, mum would get the biggest swede she could find, and hollowing that out would take DAYS!!! Quite often I would get fed up before it was finished.

Selena said...

Fantastic photographs!!! I love them. I'm missing a little bit of the Halloween stuff. We've decided to do a London Ghost Tour next Tuesday. So excited!!

I hope you are having a wonderful week!!


Sissym said...

I liked these curiosities!

Brazil follows some foreign traditions. It's growing every year celebrating Halloween, but I imagine, by everything I read on the internet, we aren't close from the true meaning.


fsmum said...

Loved this post. Haven't been blogging or following blogs for a while now and it's so nice to get back into it. Here in Ireland, when I was small, we used to go only to our neighbours doors in disguise and our mantra was 'help the halloween party'. This was how we guilted people into giving us fruit. Back in those days, it was monkey nuts, peanuts, oranges, apples, coconuts that we were given rather than sweets or money.

Rose Fern said...

Such an interesting posting! I'm an English teacher in Greece and I'll use it in my class!Thanks!

Annie @ knitsofacto said...

I just love reading about how other's the British.

My birthday is toward the end of October and I always had a Halloween birthday party, often with fancy dress. We would make our own decorations ... spooky cobwebs, witches hats, etc., because they weren't available to buy. And play Halloween party games. A favourite was to be blindfolded and handed bowls of 'witch bits'. You had to guess what you were feeling ... eyeballs (actually glacé cherries), guts (cold tinned spaghetti) ... you get the idea. Food was green jelly, black pop, witches fingers (cold cooked sausages with a nail shaped piece of raw onion attached) ... Parties like that weren't unusual in the '70s, but there was no trick or treating, asking for anything was very much frowned upon and it really was seen as a version of begging.

My Celtic grandmother (part Welsh, part Scottish, part Irish) made Halloween jam every year from pumpkins. Maybe our party tradition began with her.

Trick or treating seems to be fading away in our Welsh village. Ten years ago we would get a lot of the local children knocking on the door, last year not a one!

Annie @ knitsofacto said...

Eek, that should say 'how others *see* the British.

Happy Homemaker UK said...

@Annie - I love the 'witches fingers' idea - so clever. And happy birthday!!

Betty said...

Growing up as a child we had Samhain, my mother was from a line of pagans and I have kept up the tradition but nobody else did anything in those days and we kept it indoors - more recently my church advised me it was inappropriate for me to be decorating the house and suggested I didn't - I have continued as what I am doing is not in any way snubbing God of course, although some people see it that way - it's a celebration of the season and of those who have passed on for me. I don't much like trick or treating here as it isn't done in the right spirit - I think Americans have found a good balance and made Halloween into something fun that embraces all the right elements. Enjoy your celebrations - your pictures are lovely. Betty

Robynne's Nest said...

Happy Halloween to you too Laura...it must be hard missing such festivities...especially Thanksgiving....I would love to experience these very American festivities if we are ever posted to the U.S. Robx

Corinne Korda said...

Hi Laura,

what an interesting post + lovely pictures, as well. In Germany, Halloween seems to slowly establish itself, due to its commercial side effects, but it actually has no tradition here at all. However, my son and his friends love it... When I was a child, the only "party" to look forward to at this period of the year was St Martin's day on the 11th of November when we all made lanterns and walked around in the dark. All the kindergarten kids here in Munich still do it - and call me old fashioned, but I still prefer it over spooky Halloween...

Polly Keary said...

Hello a year later. I grew up with parents with a religious objection to the holiday, so it wasn't until I had step-kids that I ever went trick or treating. Talk about a way to get to know your neighbors! It's a more friendly holiday than any other, even Christmas! When else do you knock on all your neighbor's doors and say hi and chat a bit? I was really struck by the neighborliness of it.