Have you ever wondered how the tradition of Halloween started? Today’s Halloween celebrations is a merging of many different past traditions which may not necessarily be scary or associated with the dead.
While most people see this tradition as a special occasion to spend time with family and friends, some people have samhainophobia or a fear of Halloween. Let’s hope you aren’t fearful of Halloween so you can learn some fascinating facts about this annual observance.
Ireland is believed to be the birthplace of the Halloween festival dating back to the 18th century. Scarecrows are a popular Halloween fixture that symbolizes the tradition’s agricultural roots.
Halloween is short for Hallow’s Eve or Hallow’s Evening. It is also called by other names such as All Hallows Eve, Witches Night, Lamswool, Snap-Apple Night, Samhain and Summer’s End. In some places, the night before Halloween is called Mischief Night or Goosey Night.
Halloween has strong influences from the ancient Roman festival which celebrated the harvest goddess Pomona. Many Halloween costumes and games that feature apples and nuts date from this time when Halloween was called San-Apple Night and Nutcrack Night.
In the medieval times, Irish and Scottish folk held the Samhain festival at sunset on October 31 to mark the end of the harvest season, until daylight on November 1 to mark the beginning of winter. This is also the reason why orange and black colors are prevalent in Halloween decorations: orange for the colors of autumn (end of harvest season) and black for winter (the dark season).
The first Jack O’ Lanterns were made out of turnips. They also used potatoes and beets. Irish legend has it that a stingy man name Jack tricked the devil several times which caused him to be forbidden from entering both heaven and hell. He was condemned to wander the Earth and tried to lead people away from their paths by waving his lantern.
Pumpkins are not just orange in color; some are white, blue or green. Pumpkins originated from Mexico. About 99% of all pumpkins sold are used as Jack ‘O Lanterns for Halloween.
Mexico celebrates the Days of the Dead (Dias de los Muertos) on All Saint’s Day (Nov 1) and All Soul’s Day ( Nov 2) instead of Halloween by dressing up like ghouls and parading on the streets.
Dressing up as ghouls and other spooky entities originally came from the ancient Celtic tradition of town folk dressing as demons and spirits to disguise themselves so they would not be noticed by the real demons and spirits wandering the streets during Samhain.
The word “witch” comes from the Old English word wicce, which means “wise woman”. Wiccans were highly respected people at one time and according to a popular belief, they held their two annual meetings or sabbats on Halloween night.
Owls are also a popular Halloween fixture. They were thought to be witches in Medieval Europe and it is believed that when you hear an owl’s call, it meant that someone is about to die.
Halloween was brought by Irish and Scottish immigrants to the US during the late 18th to early 19th century. The practice came from the ancient Celtic tradition of putting out treats and food to appease spirits who roamed the streets during the Samhain festival, which also marked the end of the Celtic calendar year. The trick-or-treaters mostly received fruits and nuts.
Trick-or-treating became popular in the US in the 1930s. The first know mention of the practice in print was in 1927 in Blackie, Alberta, Canada.
Halloween is the second highest grossing commercial holiday after Christmas and sells more than twice as much chocolate than Valentines Day. According to Hallmark, Halloween is the 6th most popular card-giving holiday each year with 20 million cards sent during the occasion.
The most popular children’s costumes during Halloween are princesses and super heroes. For pets, the most popular costume is a pumpkin. Trick-or-treaters usually prefer to receive chocolates over candies. The average bag of candy that one child will collect on Halloween contains about 11,000 calories. So ask your kids to not eat everything at once and share their treats, given the fact that 90% of parents steal some of their children’s Halloween candy.
The blockbuster movie Halloween (1978) was originally titled Babysitter Murders and was filmed in just 21 days. The sounds of stabbing in the movie were made by a knife being plunged into a watermelon. Due to tight budget, they found the cheapest mask for the character Michael Meyers, which turned out to be a William Shatner Star Trek mask. When Shatner learned about this fact years later, he said that he was honored.
Some shelters used to suspend black cat adoptions during Halloween for fear that the animals will be in danger from satanic cults and their rituals. Today, some shelters promote black cat adoptions in October and use interviews to choose pet parents who will truly love and care for their pet.
In Hong Kong, the Halloween celebration is known as Yue Lan or the “Festival of the Hungry Ghosts”. During the festival, fires are lit and food and gifts are offered to appease potentially angry ghosts who might be looking for revenge.
In China, the occasion is called Teng Chieh or the “Lantern Festival”. Lanterns shaped like dragons and other animals are hung around the houses and streets to guide spirits back to their earthly homes. Family members leave food and water by the portraits of their deceased loved ones to honor them.
Since Protestant England did not believe in Catholic saints, the activities associated with Hallows (or Halloween) became associated with Guy Fawkes Night which is on November 5. The occasion serves to commemorate the capture and execution of Guy Fawkes in 1605 for co-conspiring to blow up the Parliament in order to restore a Catholic king.
The famous magician Harry Houdini (1847 – 1926) died on Halloween night from a burst appendix. Most people believe that he died while performing on stage in an escape act from his Chinese water torture machine. In fact, he died at Grace Hospital in Detroit, a week after collapsing on stage during his final performance on October 24, 1926 at the Garric Theatre. He was rushed to a hospital after the show when he showed signs of appendicitis.
Although most countries around the world celebrate Halloween, there are exceptions. France and Australia see Halloween as an unwanted and overly commercial American influence. In Bathurst, Canada, anyone over the age of 16 caught trick-or-treating or even just wearing a mask, can face a fine of up to $200.
How do you and your family observe Halloween? Do you have more fascinating facts about the Halloween tradition? We’d love to learn more.