12 Things You Probably Never Knew About Halloween

Lighthearted and whimsical as Halloween is today, its past is a multicultural conglomeration of ritual, religion, and history.

1. There's a dark side to the innocent child-centered holiday


The Halloween of today, in which children dress up as ghouls, ghosts, and witches and light-heartedly demand 'treats' from neighbors under threat of a 'trick', has largely been reimported from the United States, where Irish immigrants introduced the custom in the 19th century. It is thought to stem from the idea that on Halloween all law is suspended. Dressing up in masks and costumes prevents people from being recognized by their own community. Being separated in this way allows the participants to play boisterous and often antisocial tricks. (While you're trick-or-treating with your kids, here are some facts about the candy they're collecting and 7 safety tips to follow.)

2. It originally began as a pagan festival honoring the dead.

istock/Martin McCarthy

For Celts and Anglo-Saxons the year ended when the herds were brought in from pasture at the end of October. The new year began in November, marked by the festival of Samhain, a celebration in which purifying bonfires were lit. On the night before Samhain, souls of the departed could return temporarily to their hearths, and ghosts and demons were free to roam the Earth. (If you really want to spook yourself this Halloween, check out the best haunted houses in America.)

3. The Catholic Church then used it to their advantage to honor saints.

istock/Jeremy Edwards

To counter the influence of this pagan festival, during the 9th century the Church instituted the feast of All Saints or All Hallows on November 1. Thereafter, October 31 became known as All Hallows Eve, or Halloween.

4. The pagan festival was brought back with All Souls' Day


In 998, the abbot of Cluny in France established November 2 as All Souls' Day, when prayers are said for the departed, thus completing the link between Samhain and Christian festivals.

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5. Mexico created their own celebration called The Day of the Dead


In the 16th century, as they imposed Catholicism in Mexico, the colonizing Spaniards took elements of local religions and incorporated them into their rituals. The Day of the Dead on November 1 remains one of the great celebrations. Here are 7 spooky facts about the Day of the Dead.

6. Apple bobbing originated in Britain

istock/Joanna Pecha

In Britain, most Halloween traditions died out with the rise of Puritanism in the 16th and 17th centuries, but games such as apple bobbing, in which apples floating in a bowl of water are caught in the mouth, are remnants of past rituals. When thrown over the left shoulder, the apple's peel would fall into a shape resembling the initials of a true lover. (Here are 28 other things to add to your fall bucket list.)

7. The observance of saints' days, including All Saints, was banned by the English Protestants


They soon created a new autumn festival in their place. In 1606, Guy Fawkes was hanged for his role in the Catholic plot to blow up the House of Lords on November 4, 1605. Parliament then passed an Act for the perpetual celebration of the failure of both this second attempt on the life of James I and the plan to destroy Parliament itself.

The Act ordered that everyone should attend church on the morning of November 5 as part of the Gunpowder Plot commemoration, which was soon popularly known as Guy Fawkes Day. By the 1630s the event was associated with bonfires and the burning of effi-gies. Initially these were of the pope or the Devil but from the 19th century they were often of Guy Fawkes himself.

8. There's a reason that the colors associated with Halloween are orange and black.

Things You May Not Know About Halloween-306385181-didesign021didesign021/shutterstock
Orange and black are well-known contrasting Halloween colors. Orange symbolizes the fall harvest while black symbolizes death. You've probably heard of these 14 spooky Halloween superstitions, but do you know the story behind them?

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9. You used to have to work harder for your treats

mummyDer Fotografer/Shutterstock
Many trace trick-or-treating back to Europe where people would go door to door in costume performing choreographed dance routines and songs in exchange for treats. At the time it was known as “mumming,” or “guysing,” and was often associated with people begging for money.

10. People used to wear animal skins and heads

As a tradition, ancient tribes would wear costumes made out of animal skulls and skins. They believed it would help them connect to the spirits of the dead. Consider yourself lucky that we have costume stores now and don't have to make them out of animals.

11. Pumpkins weren't the only thing that used to be carved

TurnipsSTUDIO GRAND OUEST/Shutterstock
The story of how the term Jack-o'-lantern came to be is based off of a man named Stingy Jack. He originally placed a piece of coal into a turnip to use as a lantern, not a pumpkin. Therefore, people used to carve turnips, beets, and potatoes before they started carving pumpkins.

12. Some animal shelters won't allow people to adopt black cats around Halloween

Black cats are a classic symbol that goes along with Halloween. Many shelters are superstitious and concerned that people might harm or sacrifice the black cats during the time leading up to Halloween so they won't allow them to be adopted the entire month of October. However, people started to realize how ridiculous this was and want the shelter animals to find forever homes. Now, some shelters even have specials on black cats around the holiday (obviously doing a thorough background check on those hoping to adopt.) This is how you can decode your cat's behavior.

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