For Horror Freaks, October is the most wonderful time of the year; Halloween is like Christmas and New Year’s rolled into one, a celebration of all things creepy and macabre. But how much do you really know about Halloween? Where did these bizarre traditions originate and how did the holiday become a staple of Western culture? The answers may surprise you.
With less than 3 weeks until Halloween, it’s the perfect time to explore the history of our favorite holiday. Understanding the traditions associated with Halloween will only enhance your appreciation of this unique phenomenon. Below, in no particular order, are 13 Freaky Facts about October 31st. Let the festivities begin!
Halloween is Actually Part of a 3-Day Celebration
“Halloween” is a contraction of All Hallow’s Evening and is also known as Allhalloween, All Hallow’s Eve, and/or All Saint’s Eve. For Catholics, Halloween begins a 3-day observance known as Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.
Halloween’s Roots in Celtic Mythology
Before it was Christianized, Halloween traditions originated as part of Celtic harvest festivals and had pagan roots. In particular, the Gaelic festival Samhain may have given birth to our modern Halloween celebrations. Some academics, however, believe that Halloween began independently as a solely Christian holiday.
Halloween in North America
Halloween was brought to North America by immigrants from Europe who would celebrate the harvest around a bonfire, share ghost stories, sing, dance and tell fortunes.
Jack o’ Lanterns on Halloween
Jack o’ Lanterns originated in Ireland where people placed candles in hollowed-out turnips to keep away spirits and ghosts on the Samhain holiday. The original Jack and his lantern come from an Irish folktale about a man’s unfortunate deal with the Devil:
The Original Jack and his Lantern: On route home after a night’s drinking, Jack encounters the Devil and tricks him into climbing a tree. A quick-thinking Jack etches the sign of the cross into the bark, thus trapping the Devil. Jack strikes a bargain that Satan can never claim his soul. After a life of sin, drink, and mendacity, Jack is refused entry to heaven when he dies. Keeping his promise, the Devil refuses to let Jack into hell and throws a live coal straight from the fires of hell at him. It was a cold night, so Jack places the coal in a hollowed out turnip to stop it from going out, since which time Jack and his lantern have been roaming looking for a place to rest. (Source)
Dressing Up on Halloween
The ancient Celts believed that ghosts and evil spirits roamed the earth on Halloween, looking for souls to ravage. Donning a scary mask was a way of disguising oneself from these mischievous entities; wearing a costume was done to avoid being recognized as human.
Eddie J. Smith, in his book Halloween, Hallowed is Thy Name, offers a religious perspective to the wearing of costumes on All Hallows’ Eve, suggesting that by dressing up as creatures “who at one time caused us to fear and tremble”, people are able to poke fun at Satan “whose kingdom has been plundered by our Saviour.”
Bobbing for Apples on Halloween
Bobbing for apples is thought to have originated from the roman harvest festival that honors Pamona, the goddess of fruit trees
Black Cats and Halloween
Black cats were once regarded as synonymous with witchcraft, either as supernatural protectors of covens or as shape shifters with nefarious intentions. Today, black cats are often targeted by pranksters on Halloween; many animal shelters will refuse to adopt out black cats in the weeks leading up to Halloween for fear they will be abused.
Fear of Halloween
If you want nothing more than to hide under your bed on October 31st, you may suffer from Samhainopobia: The fear of Halloween.
Halloween is Big Business
Halloween is second only to Christmas as the commercially successful holiday. Over $1.5 billion is spent on costumes each year and more than $2.5 billion on other Halloween paraphernalia. Halloween candy sales average about $2 billion annually in the United States and it is the largest candy-purchasing holiday.
The Origins of Trick ‘r Treating
The word “trick” refers to a “threat” to perform mischief if no treat is given. The practice is said to have roots in the medieval practice of mumming, which is closely related to souling. John Pymm wrote that “many of the feast days associated with the presentation of mumming plays were celebrated by the Christian Church.” These feast days included All Hallows’ Eve, Christmas, Twelfth Night and Shrove Tuesday. Mumming, practiced in Germany, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe, involved masked persons in fancy dress who “paraded the streets and entered houses to dance or play dice in silence.”
Halloween is for Lovers
In Scotland, some Halloween traditions are intertwined with a search for true love. For example:
- Scottish girls believed they could see images of their future husband if they hung wet sheets in front of the fire on Halloween.
- Some girls believed they would see their boyfriend’s faces if they looked into mirrors while walking downstairs at midnight on Halloween.
- Girls who place the apple they bobbed for under their pillows are said to dream of their future love.
Orange and black are Halloween colors because orange is associated with fall harvest and black is associated with darkness and death.
The Mask Effect
There’s a reason Halloween has become synonymous with mischievous activities: Not only does wearing a mask offer anonymity, it actually increases and encourages the chances for subversive behaviors; roaming streets in groups also encourages misbehavior. One scientific study in particular found that unsupervised costumed children in groups were far more likely to steal candy and money than both non-costumed kids and children not in a group. Another similar study found that masked children were significantly more likely to take more Halloween candy than they were supposed to if they believed there was no adult supervision.