October 31: All Hallows’ Eve

Great PumpkinChances are that tonight you’re going to be celebrating Halloween. The holiday got its start as a Celtic festival honoring the dead and marking the end of the fall and beginning of the winter. Etymology fans will know that the word Halloween comes from a Scottish corruption of All Hallows’ Eve, the day before the Christian feast day of All Hallows (Now of course known as All Saints’ Day). Now, as with any major holiday, there are oodles of customs associated with Halloween, and today we’ll take a look at one of them: Namely, the history of trick-or-treating.

The tradition of going around town dressed in costume and begging for treats on holidays actually dates back to the Middle Ages. This is most famously associated with tradition of wassailing; witness that the second verse of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” starts with the phrase “Now bring us some figgy pudding,” and the third opens with the threat “And we won’t go until we get some.” In medieval Ireland and Britain there the poor would often go around town on All Hallows and request food in exchange for praying for dead relatives on All Souls Day. Over time, this tradition blended with an old Celtic tradition of wearing masks and costumes to pacify evil spirits.

By the late 1890s, “guising” as it was known at the time was quite common in Scotland, with groups of children in masks and costumes going door to door, asking for cakes, fruits or money. In 1911, the first known reference to “guising” in America appeared, when a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario reported on kids performing the practice. In the 1920s, the practice spread cross Canada and even into Chicago, and the first reference to “trick-or-treating” appeared in 1927 in a newspaper from Blackie, Alberta: “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.”

It wasn’t until 1934 that the term began to appear in American publications, and interestingly those references were exclusively from the Western U. S. The practice began to move east over the course of the 1930s. The custom was stalled during the 1940s due to wartime sugar rationing, but when the war was over trick-or-treating spread nationwide. By 1948, trick-or-treating had clearly entered pop culture as the Halloween episodes of The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet both made references to trick-or-treating. Nowadays, Halloween is a major industry, with Americans expected to spend $7-billion on candy, costumes and decorations.

While there are hundreds of cocktails named after Halloween candies, I thought it was appropriate that for Halloween we make a classic cocktail with an appropriately spooky name, Satan’s Whiskers. This fascinating cocktail made its debut in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. It’s an orangey cocktail that’s garnished with an orange twist, which is quite fitting for a drink named after the devil’s curly mustache.

Satan’s Whiskers

  • 1/2 ounce Gin
  • 1/2 ounce Dry Vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier
  • 1 teaspoon Orange Bitters

Shake all ingredients together with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Tomorrow: Shakespeare’s last play.

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