As you are busily gearing up to get out and celebrate Halloween with your friends and family, perhaps you’ve actually wondered where on earth did this somewhat bizarre holiday come from? Who thought of trick or treating? Why do we dress up in costumes anyway? For all you curious folks, we’ve compiled a top 10 listing of the most important details of the history of Halloween. The holiday has changed a lot through history but one fact will always remain the same, Halloween is one of the most beloved holidays we celebrate every year and is considered to be the 2nd most commercially successful holiday celebrated in the U.S. As you don your best Halloween costume and hit the streets to do some serious trick or treating, here are some fun facts for you to keep in mind!
Pumpkins: Pumpkins are plentiful in the U.S. and are actually indigenous to the Western hemisphere. Normally harvested in October, pumpkins are most commonly orange, but these members of the gourd family also can be found in green, yellow, white, blue and tan! When the Irish immigrated to the U.S. they had been formerly making lanterns with scary faces in them out of turnips to use on ‘All Hallows Eve’, but they quickly switched to pumpkins because they were far easier to carve than turnips and were more readily available. A Halloween tradition was born!
Jack-o-Lanterns: The legend of the Jack-o-Lantern is actually based on a man named Jack. Legend states that a miserly, angry as well as evil man named Jack liked to play pranks on his fellow townspeople. One day Jack decided to mess with the devil himself and tricked him, trapping him up in a tree. Jack circled the tree trunk with crosses and other religious symbols and would not let the devil escape until he agreed that he would never take Jack’s soul into hell. Of course the devil had no choice but to agree to this bargain and he was allowed to go free. When Jack eventually died, he was far too evil to go to heaven but the devil was true to his bargain and did not take Jack’s soul into hell. Jack was forced to roam the earth for eternity. The devil did leave Jack with an endlessly burning ember, which Jack placed inside a turnip lantern to carry on his way as he eternally searched for his final resting place. The tradition of the lit Jack-o-Lantern carries on to this day!
Halloween Parties: Back in ancient days, villagers would gather on All Hallow’s Eve for a celebration called Samhain, which marked the end of the Harvest and the beginning of their new year, which was November 1st. Large bonfires would be made and various rituals would be performed around these, including throwing the bones of slaughtered animals into the fire as an offering. This celebration was also thought to honor the dead, which these people believed could roam the earth freely in spiritual form on this night. It became commonplace to dress as one were dead in an effort to fool the spirits in hopes that any malevolent amongst them would leave them alone.
Immigrants: Most of the traditions we have surrounding Halloween come from the Irish or other European immigrants who brought their ancient customs with them when they immigrated to the U.S. Halloween is an eclectic mixture of customs of the Irish, Catholic and the Romans. In particular, the highly superstitious Celts gave us many of the ideas for what we now know as Halloween. The Celts believed that the lines between the living and the dead were completely blurred on October the 31st and they were fearful of any mischief or problems that might be caused by these spirits when they returned.
Ghosts: Because of the ancient beliefs that the spirits of the deceased were out running rampant on All Hallows Eve, Halloween will always have a close association with ghosts and spirits. Throughout history it has been common to tell ghost stories and folk tales involving spirits around the time of Halloween. These traditions have carried on today and it is common for people to create and visit attractions that are designed to appear ‘haunted’ as part of a way to celebrate Halloween.
Monsters: Aside from ghosts, over the years many other monsters have become associated with Halloween. Two of the most common are vampires and werewolves. Vampires are part of ancient folklore that tried to explain away why random plagues would cause groups of mysterious deaths in various villages. Superstitious people thought that these deaths must be due to a newly deceased person being actually ‘undead’ and rising from the crypt in order to feast on the blood of the living in order to maintain their life force. Potential werewolves, another mythological being, were picked out from amongst others by features such as uni-brows, hairy palms and having a middle finger that was longer than the other digits.
Costumes: The first Halloween costumes were made in Ireland and were made of various types of make up and animal heads or skins. These costumes were made in an effort to ward off evil spirits, but during the celebration of All Hallows Eve, were also used in the ceremonies that were performed during various festivities. Fortunes were often told and it was common for various rituals to be performed during this time. Nowadays, although scary costumes are still worn on Halloween, the variety of costumes you will see cover many different categories including superheroes, pop stars, humorous costumes and historical figures as well.
Witches: The word witch comes from the Old Saxon word ‘wica’, which actually means ‘wise one’. In ancient days, witches were originally considered to be healers who were very familiar with the use of herbs and other remedies to help the sick and otherwise afflicted. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, the church clergy unfairly labeled these ‘healers’, calling them devil worshipers or sorcerers, even though that was hardly the case. Early immigrants that still believed these old ancient superstitions regarding witches brought these rumors with them into the U.S.
Trick or Treating: In the ancient days of Scotland and Ireland, it was common practice on All Hallows eve for the poor or less fortunate to go to the homes of more affluent people and offer prayers for the dead in exchange for food or money. This practice was once again brought to the states by immigrants and eventually evolved into the custom of trick or treating, as we know it today.
Candy: Candy is the preferred ‘treat’ of trick or treaters, the most favored of all being chocolate bars. The number one chocolate bar favorite amongst trick or treaters is Snickers. Consumers will spend over two billion dollars on Halloween candy this year. Over twenty five percent of all candy purchased annually in the U.S. is bought for Halloween purposes.
Halloween is one of the most beloved holidays out there. Knowing a little bit of the facts surrounding its magical history will help you to understand and enjoy it all the more! Happy Halloween!