Fun Facts About Halloween Through History

Boo!

It’s that time of the year again! Can’t you just feel the chill in the air? The witches are chanting, the cauldrons are brewing and the ghosts have come out to play. Ready the holy water — things are about to get spooky.

Halloween nowadays means many things — costumes, cocktails, candies, ghost stories — but most of the time, we forget how all this really started and what it meant way back when. So here’s a list of tidbits on Halloween’s own petrifying past!

1. As most know, the name “All Hallows’ Eve” refers to Nov. 1 Christian “All Souls Day” or Hallowmas. 

2. … but what you probably didn’t know is that the whole start of Halloween was also part of an elaborate conversion scheme by the Catholic Church in Ireland. By combining their religious day (from Springtime) with Celtic harvest festivals, they thought they could eliminate paganism.

3. It actually originated from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Nov. 1 was the first day of the Celtic year, marking the end of their summer and the beginning of winter: a time of crop death. They believed that on Oct. 31 the boundary between the living and the dead thinned and spirits could roam the living world. They dressed up, gathered around sacrificial bonfires and told fortunes.

4. It came to North America via Irish and Scottish immigrants who gathered around the fire to tell fortunes and ghost stories.

5. Legend has it that during Samhain, Celtic Druids would throw caged cats into the fire for divination purposes.

6. But the whole idea of them being evil comes from the early modern belief that cats (especially black) were witches’ familiars, protectors of their mistress’ dark power.

7. The owl is a popular symbol on Halloween because medieval Europeans believed them to be witches in animal form — and that their call meant someone was bound to die.

8. Spiders had meaning too! Seeing one on Halloween meant a loved one was watching over you. So maybe we should wait until the morning after before we start screaming and beating them with a shoe. No? Just a suggestion.

9. The term “witch” actually comes from the old English Wicca meaning “wise-woman,” a reference to often respected local healers. They were thought to hold one of their two annual meetings, sabbats, on Halloween night.

10. The whole wicked witch idea didn’t really show up until the mid-fifteenth century publication of the Malleus Maleficarum, a guide to hunting witches. Pretty soon these gals went from healers to broomstick riding lust-filled mistresses of evil, who frequently held massive orgies where they submitted to the devil.

11. Jack-O-Lanterns = Jack of the Lantern. According to Irish lore, there was a drunkard named Jack who played a trick on the devil by trapping him in a tree, then forcing him to swear never to take his soul if Jack helped him down. He was such a dick though that heaven didn’t want him either and so he was condemned to wandering the earth with a lantern made of a burning coal, trying to lead the living astray.

12. Actually, the first Jack-O-Lanterns weren’t even made from pumpkins; they were made from turnips, which were much cheaper overseas.
13. The Halloween colours orange and black have meaning from the advent of Halloween celebrations. Orange was a marker of endurance, strength and growth of the harvest, while black was a colour of death, a reminder that Halloween night was when the veil between living and dead was at its thinnest.

14. In Scotland, girls believed that by hanging wet sheets by the fireside on Halloween, they would see an image of their future husband.

15. If that didn’t work, they could toss a bunch of chestnuts (each representing a potential suitor) into the fire — the one that popped or burned determined a match.

16. Even bobbing for apples was a bit of a matchmaker. Young women would mark apples and toss them into a basin; if a man bit into her apple, they found their match. So basically all we need is to raid an orchard and steal a swimming pool. Come on over, boys! 

17. The term “bonfire” came from Druids who on Samhain threw cattle bones into the fire. Bone fire. Bonfire. Get it?

18. Now an excuse to don your sexiest corset and cat ears, the costume-wearing tradition started as an effort to confuse and ward off evil spirits. By dressing up as the evil spirits themselves, villagers hoped the real ones wouldn’t notice they were alive.

19. Legend has it that if you wear your clothes inside out on Halloween and walk backwards, you’ll see a witch at midnight.

20. The trick-or-treating idea comes from guising in Ireland and Scotland, where children in costumes would visit their neighbours and perform their trick (usually a song or a dance) in exchange for treats (coins, nuts and fruits). My neighbourhood best prepare for a full one-man production of Hamilton if they’re giving out money.

21. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the “tricking” became pranks instead of performances. The tricks were getting increasingly violent and damaging, which led to organized Trick-or-Treating that gave homeowners a choice.

22. Halloween is thought to have first been celebrated in about 4000 BCE, making it roughly 6000 years old.

Here’s to the spooky season, and a haunted Halloween!