“Trick-or-treating” or “Guising” is a custom for children on Halloween. Children proceed in costume from house to house, asking for treats such as confectionery, or sometimes money, with the question, “Trick or treat?” The “trick” is an idle threat to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given.
In North America, trick-or-treating is now one of the main traditions of Halloween and it has become socially expected that if one lives in a neighborhood with children one should purchase treats in preparation for trick-or-treaters.
But when did trick or treating begin, and where?
The earliest known reference to ritual begging on Halloween in English speaking North America occured in 1911, when a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario reported that it was normal for the smaller children to go street “guising” on Halloween between 6:00 and 7:00 P.M., visiting shops and neighbours to be rewarded with nuts and candies for their rhymes and songs.
The earliest known use in print of the term “trick or treat” appears in 1927, from Blackie, Alberta, Canada:
“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.”
Trick-or-treating does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930s, with the first U.S. appearances of the term in 1934, and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939. Trick-or-treating spread from the western United States eastward, although it was stalled by sugar rationing that began in April 1942 during World War II and did not end until June 1947.
Early national attention to trick-or-treating was given in October 1947 issues of the children’s magazines Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities, and by Halloween episodes of the network radio programs The Baby Snooks Show in 1946 and The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1948. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney portrayed it in the cartoon Trick or Treat and Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their television show.
Source: New World Encyclopedia