Trick or treat?

Trick or treat?

Whether you carry a plastic pumpkin or a pillowcase, it's time to score some sweet loot!

For most kids, Halloween comes down to just one thing: Candy. And while the extortion threat of tricks may be mostly forgotten, uttering the words "Trick or treat?" - accompanied by a little face paint or a crazy get-up - will be rewarded with enough candy to last you into December (though your mileage may vary).

People have been trick-or-treating in North America since the 1950s, but the tradition dates back to the Middle Ages. 'Souling' was common in Britain and Ireland by then, where the poor would go door to door on November 1st and receive food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day.  'Guising' at Halloween - going door to door for cakes, fruits and money - was common practice by the turn of the 20th century, when revelers carried hallowed out turnips as lanterns (precursors to our jack-o-lanterns).

And while you aren't likely to find cash among your candy bars, trick-or-treating is big business.  Halloween candy, costumes, and accouterments amounted to $5.77 billion in 2008.  That's a lot of Mars bars!

Of course, there are always the houses who try to forego sweets for healthier fare like apples or raisins. These are the houses most at risk for the implied threat of tricks.  And any house that gives out dental floss should be prepared to clean up a few eggs on November 1st.

But trick-or-treating isn't over at the last house. The most important stage comes when friends re-group to go through their haul.  THis is when battering and negotiation for precious candy takes place.  And then, regardless of the costume they wear, any kid who doesn't like Snickers is suddenly a king!