Every year, when Fall comes, everybody gets excited for one of America’s favorite holidays: Halloween. What’s not to love? It’s a time to dress up, go out, have fun and eat (a lot of) candy. But what do you really know about Halloween? We’re here to give you all the fun facts about the spookiest time of the year.
Halloween did not begin in America
Halloween is a cultural mashup with origins that date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. October 31 marked the end of summer and the harvest season and the beginning of winter, a dark and cold time of year. The Celts believed that, on this day, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became thinner and that the spirits of the dead returned the living world.
The Roman Empire conquered the Celtics and combined their festivals of Feralia (that honored the passing of the dead) and a day to honor Pomona (the goddess of fruit and trees) with Samhain. They were all celebrated in late October. Since the Catholic holiday of All Saints’ Day is on November 1, the previous night had All Hallows’ Mass. And so, October 31 became known as All Hallows’ Eve, which eventually turned into Halloween.
Costumes were a way to hide from ghosts
The Celts believed that dressing up as demons and ghosts would allow them to hide from the real spirits wandering around during Samhain. People went out in masks and costumes at night so the ghosts would think that they were also spirits.
Trick-or-treating may have a mix of origins
One is the Celt tradition of putting out treats and food for spirits who were wandering around on Samhain. Another is “souling”, a medieval Christian tradition where the poor would go door-to-door and offer prayers for the dead in exchange for food. And then there is the European “guising”, where young people would dress up and visit houses to perform a “trick” for whoever opened the door and be given fruit, nuts, and even coins.
Some places have laws for Halloween
Even though Halloween is one of the most popular holidays in America, some places have some pretty serious rules about what you can and can’t do. For example: did you know that it is against the law to dress up as a priest in Alabama? In Ilinois, you can only go trick-or-treating if you’re under 13 years old. If you’re older than that, you may have to pay a $1000 fine! And in California, you could face a $1000 fine for using silly string on Halloween.
Jack O’Lanterns were named after a man
There is an ancient Celtic myth about Jack, a stingy man who tricked the devil too many times. Because of that, when he died, the devil did not allow him to go to either heaven or hell. And the devil condemned him to roam the Earth with only a burning coal lantern to light his way. He put it inside a hollowed turnip and became known as “Jack of the Lantern”.
And Jack O’Lanterns weren’t originally carved on pumpkins
Actually, turnips were used the most, since they were more common in the UK. When the tradition came to America, pumpkins were more common. Which is also why we still use pumpkins today.
There is a reason why witches are often associated with Halloween
Since ghosts lead back to the very origin of the holiday, of course they’d be one of its biggest symbols. Witches are also widely popular when it comes to Halloween. The very word comes from “wicce”, an old English word that means “wise woman”. People believed that witches held one of their two annual meetings, called “sabbats”, on Halloween. There is also a tradition that says that if you wear your clothes inside out and walk backwards on Halloween, you will see a witch at midnight.
Owls and spiders and cats, oh my!
In Medieval Europe, people thought owls were witches. To hear an owl’s call meant someone was about to die. Halloween is all about connecting to spirits, so it’s no wonder owls are so popular.
Spiders have a different meaning on Halloween. Rumor has it that if you see a spider on Halloween, it means that your departed loved ones are thinking of you.
In the Middle Ages, people believed witches could turn into black cats so they could hide. And so, people often associate cats with witchy things. In ancient Samhain festivals, priests would also use cats as part of a ritual to try to predict the future.
Bats also have a real reason to be out on Halloween
And no, it’s not because they might be vampires in disguise. This is actually a myth that started with Bram Stoker’s book, Dracula. Well, that, and because there are real blood-sucking bat species.
The reason you can probably spot bats flying around on Halloween is because, apparently, they go out to feed before winter comes. This happens especially in the Northeast of the US.
Halloween has set some pretty impressive records
In 2013, Keene, New Hampshire, broke the world record for most lit Jack O’Lanterns on display on October 19. There were 30,581 in total.
And in 2018, New Hampshire broke another record. Steve Geddes grew and showcased a 2,528-pound pumpkin at the Deerfield Fair on September 28. It beat the previous record of 2,363 pounds and now holds the record for the biggest pumpkin ever in the USA.