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Dean George is the Marketing Specialist and Content Creator for Dental Insurance
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Souling, Guising and Trick or Treating

Oct 14, 2014

By Dean George

The numbers are haunting and a little scary: $2.5 billion on costumes and $3.5 billion on candy. No, we’re not talking about the cost of George Clooney’s wedding, although from what I’ve read the monetary damage for his nuptials may have been close to that number.

Today in Agent Straight-Talk, no tricks, readers: Americans are treating costume clothing and candy manufacturers to $6 billion a year in Halloween holiday bucks. That makes the ghouls and goblins second only to the Christmas Grinch in holiday commercial sales.

This being a dental blog, I’d be remiss if I failed to note that that total doesn't include the cost of repairing little cavities from all the candy corn, gummy bears and sour candies kids gleefully binge on when they return from trick-or-treating.


Where did the tradition of dressing up as someone (or something) else and walking up to a stranger’s house to ask for goodies come from? If you guessed this happy hands-out activity originated from a 2000-year-old pagan Celtic festival called Samhain, congratulations!

On the other hand, if you guessed Lady Gaga or any of the Kardashians, who would blame you?

During the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain townsfolk would don animal skins to drive away phantom visitors. Kind of like how we act today when political pollsters and census takers ring our door bell and we hide in the curtains or dive between the couch cushions.

Centuries later someone got the idea that playing a buffoon for food or drink while dressed as a ghost, demon or a Lord of the Rings Orc would be a fun way to while away the Middle Ages.

In 1000 A.D. the Church absorbed some of the old pagan rites and designated November 2 “All Souls’ Day.” Initially “souling” was performed by poor people who would visit wealthier families and pledge to pray for the souls of their dead relatives in exchange for a “soul cake.” Kids later took over the practice and expanded the accepted goodies to include food, money and even ale.


Scottish and Irish kids gave the custom a lilt of their own when they invented “guising.” Rather than prayers children would sing a song, tell a joke, recite a poem or do some kind of trick in exchange for fruit, nuts or money. Think of guising as a primitive variety show or the roots to today’s stand-up comedy.

Sometime later across the Irish Sea in Great Britain children did something similar to guising, but for a much different reason.  British children have commemorated what is known as Guy Fawkes Day every November 5 since 1606. Fawkes was part of a plot to blow up the British Parliament as a protest against the Crown’s treatment of Catholics. 

While the plot was foiled and Fawkes was caught and executed, bonfires have been set every November 5 since to celebrate the British King’s safety. In the early 1800’s children roamed British streets carrying effigies of Hawkes asking for “a penny for the Guy,” a tradition that continues today.

Guy Fawkes Day celebrations were observed by some American colonists and a combination of all three observances: Fawkes Day, souling and guising - were prevalent into the early part of the 20th century thanks to the influx of Irish and Scottish immigrants in the mid-19th century.

Unfortunately, during the Depression there was a lot more tricking than treating resulting in widespread property damage and excessive vandalism. The rationing of sugar during World War II didn’t make things any sweeter for many metropolitan city dwellers.

After World War II and the birth of the Baby Boomers, community-based trick or treating was widely adopted in cities and thousands of new suburbs. No longer hampered by sugar rationing, dozens of candy companies saw the potential and with the help of savvy national advertising campaigns helped propel Halloween into the bag-busting, ghoul-gobbling, sugar-rush activity we’ve all come to know today.

Two years ago the American Dental Association (ADA) reported that 94% of American kids ages 5 to 13 years old go trick-or-treating. The ADA findings also noted that the average child receives 90.9 pieces of candy on Halloween. Many parents know this is too much candy for children to have at one time and have admitted they would prefer their kids eat less candy at Halloween.

The ADA and the dental community has been exploring tooth-friendly alternatives to candy for the past few years, and next week Agent Straight-Talk will share some of their suggestions and professional “tricks” to get kids eating less treats.

Until then, thanks for reading, and remember: taking care of your teeth with regular dental checkups doesn’t have to be a scary proposition. Our dental plans can help chase away creepy cavities and vexing visits. To see plans available in your area, click here.  For more thrills and chills, follow us on FacebookTwitterPinterestGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Sources: history.com, ada.org, bonfirenight.net
Photo sources: earlofstamford.org.uk, spellerweb.net


Copyright 2014, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC  

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