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Halloween "guising"

Posted Thursday, October 20, 2011, at 9:03 AM

Once upon a time at Halloween, children in disguise went from door to door carrying lanterns made of scooped out turnips. The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which are both plentiful and much larger--.making them easier to carve than turnips.

The American tradition of carving pumpkins is recorded in 1837 and was originally associated with harvest time.

The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats dates back to the Middle Ages. Then it was called "guising" because children in disquise or masquerade, visited homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money.

The practice was first recorded in North America in 1911 in Kingston, Ontario, but trick or treating does not seem to have become widespread until the 1930s in the United States.

That's when mass-produced Halloween costumes appeared in stores, too..Children now wear storebought, sometime extravagant costumes, anywhere from ghouls to Disney characters

In some parts of Scotland, children still go "guising." In this custom the child performs some sort of trick, i.e. sings a song or tells a ghost story to earn their treats.

Halloween used to be so simple..

There might be a carved jack-o-'lantern pumpkin on the doorstep with a lighted candle inside.

A child dressed in a costume, usually homemade, took a paper sack and went door to door trick or treating. Sometimes the child would crayon a pumpkin on the sack, for effect. There were no bright orange plastic store bought jack o' lanterns to carry. Many times trick or treaters were given large popcorn balls as treats, and that was special. At least it was to me when I was a child.

When a youngster said, "Trick or treat?" it was mostly an idle threat to perform mischief on the homeowners property if no treat was given.

There was the occasional soaping of house and car windows or stringing of toilet tissue in a few trees about town.That was about the extent of it.

Somewhere along the line, Halloween took a turn. Home exteriors became haunted houses, loud eery music boomed out to frighten little trick or treaters, and maybe a ghost would be sitting on the front porch ready to spring to life when children approached. But, by and far, I think the children love that aspect of Halloween.

I remember that my dog Chip didn't like Halloween. He couldn't figure out if the costumed children were friends or foe.

He would stand way back with his tail between his legs, apprehensive.

He did figure out that the kids were given candy from a bowl and he wanted his share.

I remember when I was a teenager, too old to go trick or treating, that we would have Halloween parties at a friend's home or at church.

My pastor enjoyed having a party for the teens and playing tricks. I remember there was a bowl of wet grapes that we, blindfolded, were to touch. We were told they were eyeballs. Also we were escorted to a throne which we were to sit on. Actually, there was a white sheet that covered two chairs. It appeared to be covering three chairs but the middle chair was missing. When the escorted one was seated, he unceremonisouly hit the floor while everyone laughed. There were scary stories told while we sat in a circle in a darkened room.And there was the traditional bobbing of apples. It was all innocent fun.

Later, some of the older tricksters, began vandalism. They threw raw eggs on cars, ransacked, and stayed out at all hours looking for trouble.

I've heard oldtimers tell about times past when teenagers overturned outhouses and caused other damage. There was no curfew and some took advantage of that.

Now city officials set curfews with specific times for trick or treaters to cease their door to door begging.

Also, for safety reasons, sometimes churches sponsor chaperoned costumed parties for youngsters. And there are haunted houses for children to attend.

Grownups, too, go to Halloween parties.

For several years, I have gone to a Halloween party where guests dress as ghosts, devils, monsters, witches and skeletons. But, there are also angels, clowns, a gorilla,.an Arabian shiek and his bride, and others. The building is decorated with hay bales, corn husks, and a scarecrow or two. And pumpkins, of course.

Decorations and refreshments are in the traditional black and orange colors.

Here's hoping the little children enjoy their "guising" this Halloween.

And that they enjoy a safe holiday.

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From these hills
By Peggy Johnson
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