Halloween has almost arrived, and by looking around, you’d think it was always all about funky, freaky costumes and kids stealing candy when they think they can get away with it.
Not so! Halloween’s gone through centuries of reinventing itself, from possible early pagan and Druid origins, to the celebrations of the fall season, to honoring the souls of loved ones who have passed away, and even to finding your soulmate (we’ll get to that last one).
We’re going to be covering some of that here as we list of some of the most interesting things about Halloween that you may not have been aware of.
Halloween Fun Facts
1) Halloween might be just as Irish as St. Patrick’s Day
Halloween is linked to a number of Celtic festivals, especially one called “Samhain.” Samhain is a festival marking the beginning of the “darker half of the year.” It eventually merged with All Saints’ Day to form what we now celebrate as Halloween. In fact, historians “Samhain” and “Halloween” have been referred to interchangeably by historians when referring to pre-1800 customs.
Celtic festivals, of course, are celebrated in more places than Ireland, but Ireland helped popularize a very important aspect of Halloween celebrations.
On that note…
2) The origins of the jack-o’-lantern
Jack-o’-lanterns are named after a mythological Irish man called Stingy Jack.
As the story goes, Jack was drinking one night with the devil, who had come to take his soul. Jack tricked him into turning himself into a coin to pay for the tab, which (somehow) worked. Once the devil was a coin, Jack took it and shoved it into his pocket, which contained a crucifix and track the devil in Jack’s pocket.
Jack let him go in exchange for 10 more years unbothered on the Earth and safety from hell. Later, he would trick the devil again and buy more time for himself. Eventually, he did die, and was accepted neither by heaven nor hell, so he roamed the Earth. One of his favorite pastimes is placing his piece of lighted coal into lanterns and leading travelers astray.
Stingy Jack was therefore also called Jack of the lantern, and the jack-o’-lanterns put on Halloween were originally meant to ward him off.
Some versions of the story have Jack putting his coal into a hollowed out turnip. So yeah: what now is a pumpkin very well could have been a turnip.
3) Harry Houdini died on Halloween…
…in 1926, from a ruptured appendix. (Which may or may not have been related to getting pummeled by a McGill University student.)
4) Trick-or-Treat, Dance-for-Treat
There was an old European practice called “mumming,” in which people would don costumes and roam neighborhoods performing rehearsed dances in order to receive “treats.”
It’s likely that trick-or-treating finds its origin in the practice of mumming. And yes, we should all still have to dance to get candy. Young’uns have it so easy these days…
5) Halloween used to kind of be like Valentine’s Day
According to one source, “Scottish girls believed they could see images of their future husband if they hung wet sheets in front of the fire on Halloween.”
Also, in Ireland, people practiced forms of fortune telling that were supposed to reveal their future loves. Halloween was considered a prime time to mingle with potential spouses and see what was “in the cards.”
6) Halloween makes candy-makers very, very happy
For Halloween, candy is sold at more than twice the rate as for Valentine’s Day. It’s also the second-largest commercial holiday in the U.S. Only on Christmas to Americans spend more than they do on or around Halloween (more than $7 billion).
It’s interesting to take a look at where the holiday has come from, and where it is (hint: at a really great place for candy-makers). No doubt, since we’ve seen such dramatic changes over the centuries, Halloween will look nothing like it does now in a few more hundred years.
For starters, my guess is that jack-o’-lanterns will be carved out of kale.
By: Ryan Drawdy
October 31, 2017