PSA: Trick-Or-Treating Is Not American

PSA: Trick-Or-Treating Is Not American
Image: Wiki Commons

Tonight, millions of kids around the world will partake in trick-or-treat to celebrate Halloween. For some reason, this makes a small subset of Australian adults irrationally angry. “That’s a stupid American custom,” they invariably grumble. To children. Before slamming the door in their tiny faces.

In reality, the practice of trick-or-treating predates the USA by hundreds of years. It’s no more “American” than Easter or Christmas. In short, let the kids have their fun and stop being a grumpy arsehole.

As you probably know, Halloween has its roots in ancient Celtic harvest festivals and has been observed by Christians for many hundreds of years. What you might not realise is that trick-or-treating also comes from our distant past.

Trick-or-treat’s origin can be traced back to medieval England, when groups of soulers and mummers would engage in merry parish crawls to ring in All Hallows’ Eve. Along the way, they would beg the rich for traditional Halloween cakes in exchange for praying for their immortal souls.

The modern version of trick-or-treat was first recorded in Ireland and Scotland in the 19th century. Then known as “guising“, the custom involved children dressing up in outlandish costumes, walking from door-to-door and asking for treats or money. By contrast, the first record of guising in North America did not occur until 1911.

In other words, trick-or-treating is not an American invention. You’ve been bitterly complaining about nothing.

While it’s true that the US is largely responsible for popularising and commercialising the practice, the same thing can be said about Christmas. (Just look at the modern interpretation of Santa Claus, which was practically invented by Coca-Cola.) Do you kick up a similar stink on December 25, I wonder? Surely not.

In conclusion, let Aussie kids enjoy trick-or-treat. It’s a bit of harmless fun and was a British tradition long before it came to America. If you must complain about it, at least blame the Poms. Accuracy matters.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


  • Who in the hell is prepared for trick-or-treaters in Australia anyway? If a kid turned up to my door they’d get a carrot or something. Might give them a book off my shelf.
    Of course I have a ‘do not knock’ sign on my door so they shouldn’t knock.

    • Traditionally Kids only visit decorated houses, (even if only minimally with a single Jack-o’-lantern) so people who are unprepared don’t normally get drop ins.

      • I get the odd knock on Halloween and am indeed always unprepared, and there are definitely no decorations unless you count actual spider webs on my front veranda. I feel so bad telling the little kids I don’t have anything to give them unless they want some fruit…

    • Er, me?

      That’s why my house is going to have orange and black balloons on the letterbox this evening. My excuse is that my husband is American. Since your letterbox is unadorned, you’re probably OK.

      The book idea is a good one, though, although part of the solemn and ancient tradition of Hallowe’en is to eat your own weight in sugar …

    • semolinah @semolinah
      Oct 31, 2017, 1:44pm
      Who in the hell is prepared for trick-or-treaters in Australia anyway? If a kid turned up to my door they’d get a carrot or something. Might give them a book off my shelf.
      Of course I have a ‘do not knock’ sign on my door so they shouldn’t knock. WOW! You sound like a real peach. I bet your a blast at parties.

      • Kind of you. :/
        I should’ve said that they’d get the carrot because there were no chocolates in the house. Or cake. Diets suck. But I actually like the book idea now. Though I’m not taking down my sign (its a permanent thing, not just Halloween).
        And I’m great at parties. I sit in the corner and sulk.

  • No, I am a jerk to their parents. They should know better and plan an appropriate celebration.
    Halloween is NOT an Australian tradition, at all, and despite you saying it wasn’t American it was over-marketed and turn into a commercial endeavour that has been mass marketed to the rest of the world by mass-media.

    You want to celebrate halloween, have a party at home and don’t knock on my door.

    • Man you must live a very sad life, its a fun night for everyone, Christmas is a catholic tradition but i bet you celebrate that and i bet you aren’t religious so grow up.

      • Where do you get the info, Christmas, A Catholic Tradition, bollocks to stupidity, time for you to grow up and learn the truth.
        It is not December 25, no babies were in a shit-ridden stable with donkeys and other animals, a kid bashing a drum…three blokes on camels thousands of miles away in a country across a sea … they bought gifts, they were useless.
        Easter is another fictional story.
        It is blatantly obvious that you and people of your ilk lack the intelligence to learn and understand the truth underneath all our ”’untraditional” money-grubbing tactics and brainwashing of religion tied in with commercialisation to con average people into believing what they are told.
        Do you not, ever awaken in a morning and realise than you are in fantasy-land, living to the level of those who dictate what you will say and do in your life……….yes you accept it ……go and prove otherwise instead of making comic-book comments.

    • We did plan an appropriate celebration, Halloween! We went and door knocked on all the decorated houses in our street and I stayed home to hand out stuff to kids that visited us. We had to go out later in the night so I left the big bowl of treats on the front step for anyone that came by. Came back and it was down a bit, but no one took it all. Good kids.

      We want to celebrate halloween, we will. We’ll leave you alone if you don’t decorate.

  • Yes, it’s true that the US is largely responsible for popularising and commercialising the practice. But the exact same thing can be said about Christmas. Do you kick up a similar stink on December 25, I wonder? Surely not.Given that Australia has been a predominantly Christian country for centuries, I don’t think this analogy holds up. Christmas was a religious celebration here long before it became a commercial one.

    Halloween reeks of having been introduced to Australia – from America – in just this century for no reason other than to sell shit. We have no connection whatsoever to its original meaning.

    • You left out the bit about today’s Santa (jolly plump beardo in red outfit) – he’s 100% American and a bigger commercial tool than Halloween could ever be.

      • Halloween originates from All Hallows’ Eve, an ancient Celtic festival.
        Trick or Treating originates from Guising, from Scotland/Ireland.
        Santa Claus originates from St Nicholas, a Christian bishop in ancient Greece.

        Are you really arguing that Trick or Treating isn’t American, while saying that Santa Claus is? You can’t have it both ways, Chris. You’re contradicting yourself.

    • I doubt American kids have any connection to its original meaning of Gheists and Goblins or whatever than to eat candy and have fun either. That’s all Australian kids probably want too. Eating candy and having fun sounds like a fine tradition to adopt.

      Traditions do spill over and get adopted by other countries. Sometimes they get altered. They were cool about it in ancient times. Gods of disparate pantheons were syncretised, creating new combinations. Look up Hermanubis, for example.

      And it’s an excuse to sell shit too. So? I’m fairly socialist, but I’m more wary of this weird cultural purity thing people got going on than obscene profits of candy companies. Although I do think most just don’t want to be forced to buy candy for a holiday they don’t care about. Sure.

      • Quit with the ‘COOL’ comment of stupidity …. cool in Australia is a chilly morning or evening …. why did you not learn correct English at school, and I bet that you describe male deer as money … Australian money is dollars and cents …. get bucked with an eff.

        • Yeah, no. I’m guessing your post isn’t satire of some sort of Australian cultural nazi. The meaning of cool is pretty wildly understood in Australia and that’s pretty much all that matters. Even you understand what it means, you just don’t want to acknowledge it.

          How many bucks would it take you to become a more tolerant person? Why you gotta see the color red? Why you gotta don that armor, dude? At this point I’m just cramming as many Americanisms in as I want because it doesn’t goddamn matter. Words change and are influenced by other cultures and have been since language began. So do cultural traditions. Maybe don’t be such a stick in the mud.

  • You can twist it any way you want, but the simple fact is if it weren’t for business and advertising of said, they wouldn’t be cruising the streets in the first place. I’m generally polite enough with the children, they were put up to it by advertising and their parents, it’s the near as dammit to adults knocking on my door I give my five cents worth to.

  • Nope. The yanks popularised this nonsense, and I’m not going to encourage it.

    Especially the little darlings that can’t even bother dressing up, and still expect free food.

  • The above advertisement kindly brought to you by the sugar peddlers of Australia.

    Interesting that in a climate of rising obesity, i’m reading an article that is basically saying let your children be indoctrinated into this culture.

    Whilst it is true America didn’t create the celebration, they sure did commercialise it and in the commercialisation pervert it. If we want to go back to the traditional version of home made treats and home made costumes, maybe ….. Somehow, i don’t think it would be getting the push that it currently is.

    At the end of the day, do we want to make this an Australian tradition?

  • Tell you what if we really want to bring American things to Australia then how about we “Make Australia Great Again” and focus on our own national traditions.

    Or better yet. If any one of the kids that knocks on my door can tell me what Halloween is really about beyond something that they just see lots on TV shows then I’ll gladly hand over candy as a reward along with a can of Jolt Cola (Cmon parents its just a bit of fun).

  • Nothing beats an article stating unpopular opinion when it comes to boosting readership engagement (and yes, I realise and am totally comfortable with the irony).

  • What a bunch of whiners ! It’s a bit of fun. The kids love it and it gets them out of the house. Most under parental supervision from the street. I don’t have kids but was more than happy to spend $10 on lollies for a night. Far out.

    • Not fun …. a serious ritual, partly to respect our dead ancestors who produced off-spring for us to be where we are today.
      Far out you are with money to waste on ‘lollies’ which are a no-no for dentists who have to fix the rotting teeth, and if I knock on your door begging for food or money what would be the result.
      No-one is whining, people are disagreeing with another money-making American con trick.
      $$$$$$$$$ billions are spent on ridiculous costumes which do not relate in any way to the original pagan ritual, even the pumpkin lantern is not a part of the real All Hallows Eve.
      You don’t have children, don’t have any, they will spend lots of your money on Shalloween garbage clothes if you do. (Shalloween is purposely spelled the way it is)

  • “Thank goodness OUR generation wasn’t brainwashed by overly marketed American rubbish”, commented the readers frequenting a localised version of a U.S parent site. From their Windows or iOS device. Using the internet. Via a browser. Before hitting resume on episode 7 of Stranger Things from their Netflix queue.

  • I keep my son away from all the blood and gore that gets lumped in with this event. I know Americans love violence and guns, we see it in the news, lets just have fun in Australia and keep the violence in the usa.

  • While the night has been celebrated for a long time, our newspapers mention it back to the 1850s, the ‘trick or treat’ portion is uniquely American and only very recent.

    We can decide if we accept from America with *all* the crass commercialism, or make something better, leaving out the horror, haunted houses, dead bodies, and spider webs.

    Do you kick up a similar stink on December 25, I wonder? Surely not.

    Festivus? Only if my broom stick doesn’t arrive on time. In which case, absolutely.

  • I don’t see the point to this editorial. Seems to be agreeing that Halloween is substantially an American Festival but wants to acknowledge its European origins. I don’t think anyone will disagree. I do agree that anyone who slams their door in the face of a child for whatever reason is a sociopath.

    I think there were Facebook groups that listed out the handful of streets that love Trick-or-Treating and several more individual houses around the city that were listed as being stocked up with candy and ready – I’m assuming the parent of a Trick-or-Treater needed to drive from place to place. I wouldn’t know cause none were near me and I saw almost no sign of Halloween cause, you know, Halloween is an American festival…. (with European origins….)

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