Share on Facebook

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.


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 partially stems from the idea that all law is suspended on Halloween. 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.

istock/Martin McCarthy

It originally began as a pagan festival honoring the dead

While modern day trick-or-treating has origins in defying the law, the custom of dressing up for Halloween started as a form of spiritual self-defense. 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. To protect themselves, the living dressed up like these evil spirits, Smithsonian Magazine reports, so any demons would think they were interacting with one of their own kind. This is what Halloween really is—and how it’s celebrated.

istock/Jeremy Edwards

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

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. These Halloween puns will have you laughing ’til your coffin.


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. There are as many as 13 different religious and non-religious ways Halloween is celebrated around the world.


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.

istock/Joanna Pecha

Apple bobbing originated in Britain

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. Here are 28 other things to add to your fall bucket list.


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. These are the 15 best Halloween costumes for families.

Things You May Not Know About Halloween-306385181-didesign021didesign021/shutterstock

There’s a reason that the colors associated with Halloween are orange and black

Orange and black are well-known contrasting Halloween colors. Orange symbolizes the fall harvest while black symbolizes death. Do you know the story behind these 14 spooky Halloween superstitions?

mummyDer Fotografer/Shutterstock

You used to have to work harder for your treats

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. Now that candy is the treat, you should know how long Halloween candy lasts.


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. Party City doesn’t exactly have these items, but they’ll carry the most popular costumes from the year you were born.

TurnipsSTUDIO GRAND OUEST/Shutterstock

Pumpkins weren’t the only thing that used to be carved

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. Although no one hopes to carve turnips instead of pumpkins today, there’s a reason why Halloween may not be on October 31st much longer.


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.) Next, you probably didn’t know how easy it was to make these 15 Halloween crafts with your kids.

For more fun facts, costume ideas, traditions, candy inspiration, spooky entertainment, and updates on how October 31 will look different this year, check out our Halloween Guide.

Morgan Cutolo
Morgan is an Associate Editor at Reader’s Digest. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2016 where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. She writes for, helps lead the editorial relationship with our partners, manages our year-round interns, and keeps the hundreds of pieces of content our team produces every month organized. In her free time, she likes exploring the seacoast of Maine where she lives and works remotely full time and snuggling up on the couch with her corgi, Eggo, to watch HGTV or The Office.