Halloween has a long history, embedded in many cultures. The tradition of trick or treating may go back as far as the ancient Celts, who put out treats and food to placate spirits that roamed during the night of a sacred festival. The ancient Romans bobbed for apples at a similar sort of harvest festival.
An early precursor of modern trick or treating may come from “souling,” which dates back to a medieval Christian tradition. On Hallowmas (November 1), the “soulers,” mainly children and the poor, would go door-to-door singing and offering prayers for the dead in exchange for soul cakes. Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory.
In Scotland, young girls believed they would see images of their future husband if they hung wet sheets in front of the fire on Halloween. In Ireland, there were lots of variations on the idea that a young girl would see her true love’s face in the mirror at midnight on Halloween, or by lying on her back next to a well and holding up a mirror, or walking down stairs and holding a mirror over her shoulder. A number of these superstitions made their way to America during the nineteenth century.
An early 20th century Halloween greeting card, via Wikimedia commons