What a Night for a Fright
1. So where does it come from?
Well, the most accepted belief is that Halloween was heavily influenced by pre-Christian Celtic festivals that celebrated the harvest, particularly a Gaelic festival called Samhain. Other scholars disagree and note that there are similarities between the various festivals, but that Halloween evolved separately as a Christian celebration.
2. Are you afraid of Halloween?
The term for it is samhainophobia. It is often spurned on by other phobias like fear of skeletons or witches who become a common occurrence at this time of the year.
3. What about jack-o-lanterns?
They are definitely the must-have Halloween accessory, carved every year out of pumpkins. Except that they weren’t initially. The practice started in Ireland where turnips were normally used, sometimes beets or potatoes. However, Irish immigrants brought the custom to America where pumpkins were more readily available so, eventually, the switch was made.
But what about the name? It also comes from an Irish story about a man called Stingy Jack. Supposedly, he was drinking with the Devil one night and didn’t want to pay for the drinks. He convinced the Devil to turn into a coin but, instead of paying, he put the coin into his pocket next to a silver cross, thus preventing the Devil from turning back again. Eventually he released the Devil after making him promise that he would not claim Jack’s soul when he dies. When Jack did die, God found him unworthy and forbade him to enter heaven. The Devil, angry at Jack, kept his word and didn’t allow him to enter hell, either. Therefore, Stingy Jack was left roaming the Earth for eternity, only with a burning coal to light his way which he put into a carved-out turnip. He earned himself the name “Jack of the lantern” which was eventually shortened to “Jack O’Lantern”.
4. It’s the witches’ New Year.
If you know any real witches, take the time on 31st October to say “Happy New Year”. People who identify themselves as Wiccan celebrate the Samhain festival as their New Year which still falls on 31st October. And if you think there aren’t any witches, think again. One study in 2008 found that over 340,000 Americans identified themselves as Wiccan. A previous study in 2001 found only 134,000 so Wicca is clearly on the rise.
5. Why do kids trick or treat?
Well, the custom is also inspired by old Celtic traditions that date back several centuries. Back then, it was known as “guising” and it involved pretty much the same thing as today – kids going door-to-door in disguise. However, while now the American phrase “trick-or-treat” is used quite often, back then kids had to work for their treats. They were usually expected to sing a song, recite a poem, perform a trick or a dance – something for people to get their money’s worth. And they wouldn’t get candy, either. It was mostly fruits or coins.
6. How do you find a witch?
If you want to find a genuine witch on Halloween (the evil kind), legend says that all you have to do is turn your clothes inside out and walk backwards.
7. There are a lot of legends associated with Halloween.
You will often hear stories of dead people getting mistaken for decorations and props and, unfortunately, this has actually happened on several occasions. On the other hand, the common fear of parents that their kids might receive candies with poison or razorblades inside them is unfounded. While it is technically possible for a madman to target random children this way, there isn’t any actual documented case of it ever happening.
8. Houdini died on Halloween.
Not tremendously impressive, but it’s one of those random facts that stay with you forever. Harry Houdini died on October 31st 1926 of peritonitis which might had been a prior condition or it might have been caused by him getting punched unexpectedly in the stomach by a student.
9. Black cats have a rough time on Halloween.
Without a doubt, the two are permanently linked, but there are stories of these fiendish felines getting the short end of the stick on Halloween. It all starts with tales of druids offering them as sacrifices centuries ago while celebrating Samhain. This allegedly influenced modern Satanists who use them as sacrifices now. Although there’s no reason to believe that these are anything more than stories, it is true that adoption shelters are a lot more apprehensive about adopting out black cats at this time (some simply don’t do it). They’re taking a “better safe than sorry” approach because they feel that, at worst, their animals are being sacrificed to the Devil, but a far more likely problem is that people want them as a temporary Halloween decoration instead of a pet they’ll have to care for over the next 10+ years.
10. What is the Halloween Capital of the World?
Well, Salem, Massachusetts, of course. It does have the strongest connection with witches in the world due to the infamous Salem witch trials (which actually didn’t happen like you probably think they did). However, Salem does have competition from another city boasting the same title – Anoka, Minnesota.