A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from September 18, 2008
“Trick or Treat” ("Trick or Treat for UNICEF")

The origin of the “trick or treat” ritual (children going from door-to-door on Halloween, asking for candy) is unknown. The phrase “trick-or-treat” first appears in the 1920s and seems to originate in the Pacific Northwest.

Citations of “trick or treat” were published in the Calgary (Alberta) Daily Herald on November 3, 1927, and in the Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada) Herald on November 4, 1927. Both stories described the practice in Blackie, Alberta.

The New York City-based United Nations became associated with Halloween in 1950, when children in Philadelphia went trick-or-treating by asking for coins for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

A rhyming extension (cited in print since at least 1964) is “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.” “Trick or treat, bags of sweets, ghosts are walking down the street” is another extension.


Wikipedia: Trick-or-treating
Trick-or-treating, is an activity for children on or around Halloween in which they proceed from house to house in costumes, asking for treats such as confectionery with the question, “Trick or treat?” The “trick” part of “trick or treat” is a threat to play a trick on the homeowner or his property if no treat is given. Trick-or-treating is one of the main traditions of Halloween. It has become socially expected that if one lives in a neighborhood with children one should purchase treats in preparation for trick-or-treaters. The National Confectioners Association reported in 2005 that 80 percent of adults in the United States planned to give out confectionery to trick-or-treaters, and that 93 percent of children planned to go trick-or-treating.
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History
The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages, and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of “souling,” when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of “puling [whimpering, whining], like a beggar at Hallowmas.”

Yet there is no evidence that souling was ever practiced in America, and trick-or-treating may have developed in America independent of any Irish or British antecedent. There is little primary documentation of masking or costuming on Halloween — in Ireland, the UK, or America — before 1900. The earliest known reference to ritual begging on Halloween in English speaking North America occurs in 1911, when a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario, near the border of upstate New York, reported that it was normal for the smaller children to go street guising (see below) on Halloween between 6 and 7 p.m., visiting shops and neighbors to be rewarded with nuts and candies for their rhymes and songs. Another isolated reference appears, place unknown, in 1915, with a third reference in Chicago in 1920. The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show children but do not depict trick-or-treating. Ruth Edna Kelley, in her 1919 history of the holiday, The Book of Hallowe’en, makes no mention of such a custom in the chapter “Hallowe’en in America.” It does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930s, with the earliest known uses in print of the term “trick or treat” appearing in 1934, and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939.

UNICEF
The tradition of ‘Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF’ began in 1950 in the United States when Philadelphia school children first went door-to-door at Halloween collecting money in decorated milk cartons to help the world’s children.

They raised a grand total of $17, kicking off a campaign that has since brought in more than $188 million to provide medicine, better nutrition, clean water, education, emergency relief and other support to children in more than 160 countries.

6 November 1925, Chehalis (WA) Bee-Nugget, pg. 2, col. 3:
A little folks party was given at the home of Clias, Westerland, Saturday afternoon for Charlotte Dunn, who entertained her little guests with Halloween treats and tricks during the afternoon.

3 November 1927, Calgary (Alberta) Daily Herald, “High River News,” pg. 22, col. 4:
(Special Dispatch to The Herald)
HIGH RIVER, Nov. 3.—T. D. Colcord of Minot, South Dakota, proprietor of the newspaper “The Independent,” spent some time this fall with his brother-in-law, Mr. Jack Evans of Blackie. He was much interested in this country and since his return to Minot has devoted several columns in his newspaper to records of his trip, extolling the virtues of South Alberta and giving very complete statistics on the achievements of this country.

Hallowe’en came and went and was observed most circumspectly in town, without the usual depredations. The greatest activity was manifested by the very young, who wandered in droves from door to door, heavily disguised and demanding “trick or treat.” To treat was to be untricked, and the youthful hold-up men soon returned home bowed down with treats.

4 November 1927, Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada) Herald, pg. 5, col. 2:
“TRICK OR TREAT” IS DEMAND
(From Our Own Correspondent.)
BLACKIE, Nov. 3—Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.

University of Alberta Libraries
8 November 1929, Irma (Alberta, Canada) Times, pg. 5, col. 3:
Hallowee’en passed off in the usual manner Thursday evening. The smaller children made up parties and had a jolly time making house to house calls with the greeting “tricks or treats,” and the owners not wishing any tricks, came across with a smile.

University of Alberta Libraries
6 November 1930, Western Globe (Lacombe, Alberta), pg. 5, col. 6:
On Friday evening, while their younger brothers and sisters were threatening the good people of the town with “treats or tricks” the High School boys and girls enjoyed themselves at a masquerade frolic.

31 October 1932, Oregonian (Portland, OR), “Halloween Jollity Within Reason” by Marian Miller, pg. 8, col. 1:
“Trick or treat?” the youthful mischief-maker will say this evening, probably, as he rings the doorbell of a neighbor. Or he may not stop to warn the innocent householder, but will proceed to soap his windows, steal his door mat, uproot his precious shrubs or place his garbage can on the front porch.

2 November 1933, Minneapolis (MN) Tribune, “Halloween Has Police Sequel: More Than 100 Juveniles Questioned About Their Part in Major Vandalism,” pg. 11, col. 5:
“Treats or tricks,” was the way she put it.

1 November 1934, Oregon Journal (Portland, OR), “Halloween Pranks Keep Police on Hop”:
Other young goblins and ghosts, employing modern shakedown methods, successfully worked the “trick or treat” system in all parts of the city.

2 November 1934, Helena (MT) Independent, “The Gangsters of Tomorrow,” pg. 4:
Pretty Boy John Doe rang the door bells and his gang waited his signal. It was his plan to proceed cautiously at first and give a citizen every opportunity to comply with his demands before pulling any rough stuff. “Madam, we are here for the usual purpose, ‘trick or treat.’” This is the old demand of the little people who go out to have some innocent fun. Many women have some apples, cookies or doughnuts for them, but they call rather early and the “treat” is given out gladly.

6 November 1935, Helena (MT) Independent, “After Hallowe’en,” pg. 4, cols 1-2:
The Mayor, not having awakened to this opportunity, The Independent assumes the taks of heartily thanking the children, big and little, for not even pulling the old “trick or treat” racket.

Google News Archive
6 November 1935, Spokane (WA) Daily Chronicle, pg. 4, col. 1:
TEACHING CHICAGO IDEAS TO BABIES
SPOKANE youngsters have found a sort of “racket” which one its first trial was tolerated by their elders. It was limited to Halloween time and for that reason some regarded it almost as a boon rather than a nuisance. A little harder thinking probably would class it as not merely a nuisance, but a danger that might lead to serious harm.

As of old, the boys or girls ring the door bell. Then, instead of running away they wait for the householder to come and greet him with the cry: “Trick or treat!”

In other words, if the house owner will take them in and entertain them for a moment or will give them some treat of apples or candy or the like, they will not put “tick-tacks” or soap on his windows nor tip his woodpile.

In plain fact it is straight New York or Chicago “graft” or “racket” in miniature. Certainly it wouldn’t be a good idea for youngsters to go in extensively for this kind of petty “blackmail” on any other date than Halloween. Neither police nor public opinion would stand for that.

30 October 1938, Los Angeles (CA) Times, pg. A8:
(Photo caption—ed.)
[GETTING IN PRACTICE FOR NIGHT OF FUN
Elio Martini, left, and Wendy Rough tie bicycle to post as prelude to Halloween.]
HALLOWEEN PRANKS PLOTTED
BY YOUNGSTERS OF SOUTHLAND
“Trick or treat!” is the Halloween hijacking game hundreds of Southern California youngsters will play tomorrow night as they practice streamlined versions of traditional Allhallows Eve pranks.

The preparations are simple: a bar of soap, some old films and a couple of Times funny papers clipped into confetti. From house to house the boys and girls will travel, punching doorbells with nerve-jangling peals.

TINY GOON SQUAD
“Trick or treat!” is the terse command as the householder peeks warily around the door.  “If you don’t give us something, we’ll play a trick on you.  You wouldn’t want your porch littered with paper, or your windows soaped, or a smelly roll of burning film left around, would you?”

So the diminutive Halloween goon squads are bought off with cookies, candy, tickless alarm clocks or the price of an ice cream cone.

SIGNBOARDS TARGET
With election but a week away it will be a field night for the Halloween billboard artists.  The more subtle pranksters already have spotted all the wind socks in their vicinity and are stuffing shirts with rumpled papers, ready to be judiciously affixed to candidates’ signboards.  Where no wind socks are available, a well blown-up paper bag will make an acceptable substitute.  Less imaginative of the costumed prowlers Monday night will be content to change the benign expressions of the pictured candidates with ferocious mustaches and beetle-browed frowns.

FEW GATES LEFT
Although there are few gates available for modern city boys to perch on rooftops, loose kiddie cars and motor scooters can be hitched to doorknobs, trash baskets can be emptied on front lawns and flower pots can appear on chimneys.  Portable (Next column—ed.) signs that unwary filling station proprietors forget to take in always make good decorations for streetcars and city halls.

The automobile will be subjected to unusual hazards Halloween night. If the windows escape a few “nerts” and “foos” scrawled in soap or paraffin, the owner is sure to find a shirt clothespinned to the radio aerial or a stack of tin cans tied on the axle.

DUMMIES PREPARED
Of course, Halloween funsters are even now fixing lifelike dummies to be placed on busy thoroughfares just to give motorists a bad half-minute or to send police with sirens screaming to “investigate a dead body.”

Pumpkins will never lose their appeal for the very young at Halloween time. Although some of the jack-o’-lanterns now are lighted with flashlights and even wired for sound, most of the faces stick to the traditional toothy grins and triangles for eyes and noses.

It’s a grumpy citizen indeed that won’t be frightened into shrieks at the appearance of a little imp on Halloween night, attired in a spooky costume and carrying a lighted pumpkin and a rattling chain.

3 November 1938, Lethbridge (Alberta) Herald, pg. 13, col. 6:
STIRLING, Nov. 2—The second group primary class with their teacher held a Hallowe’en party Monday evening at the home of Mrs. William Spachman. The younger group of Hallowe’eners canvassed the town Monday evening, securing treats in answer to their demands of “Treats or Tricks.”

13 October 1952, Sheboygan (WI) Journal, “City-Wide Children’s program Being Planned For Hallowe’en,” pg. 14, col. 4:
They will outline plans for a community-wide “Tricks or Treats” campaign in which children will collect coins for the United nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. 

10 October 1953, Oshkosh (WI) Daily Northwestern, “Oshkosh Children Learn New ‘Trick or Treat’ Twist,” pg. 8, col. 2:
Halloween plans for 1953 aren’t waiting for the frost to be on the pumpkin. In fact, they’ve been building up ever since children in the United States last fall turned the traditional goblin night into a nationwide “Trick or Treat for All the World’s Children” by collecting cents for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.

Penn State Daily Collegian (October 28, 1954)
Churches Plan
“Trick or Treat”
UN Collection


CBC
Albertans may have been 1st to say ‘trick or treat’
Earliest reference appeared in 1927 southern Alberta newspaper article, historian says

Danielle Nerman · CBC News · Posted: Oct 31, 2016 5:00 PM MT | Last Updated: October 31, 2016
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Here is the excerpt from The Blackie Times from Nov. 3, 1927:

“Halloween gave an opportunity to the young to use up some of their surplus energy which was freely taken advantage of. Threshing outfits, wagons, old autos, barrels, etc., decorated the front streets and buildings were overturned, while front and back doors were invaded and inmates held up by the awful word “Trick or Treat” from the youthful invaders who carried ...” (End of the shown snippet.—ed.)

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Thursday, September 18, 2008 • Permalink