Halloween is a celebration of all things spooky, and it’s surrounded by a few strange traditions in the United States, such as trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving. Here are some interesting facts about how some of today’s practices originated, as well as some other fun facts about the unusual holiday.
1. “Jack o’lantern” comes from the Irish legend of Stingy Jack
According to legend, Stingy Jack invited the devil to have a drink with him, but Jack refused to pay for the drink, so he persuaded the devil to turn himself into a coin. Instead of buying the drink, he pocketed the coin and kept it near a silver cross in his house to keep the devil from manifesting itself again.
He agreed to let the devil go as long as he left Jack alone for a year and that if Jack died, the devil would not take his soul.
After a year, Jack duped the devil once more into leaving him alone and not claiming his soul. When Jack died, God decided he didn’t want such a deceitful person in heaven, and the devil, true to his word, refused to let him into hell.
Jack was sent into the night with nothing but a burning coal to guide him.He hid the coal inside a carved turnip and has been wandering the earth ever since.
People in Ireland and Scotland started making their own Jack’s lanterns out of turnips, beets, and potatoes. Along with the immigrants, the tradition made its way to the United States, where people began to make lanterns out of native North American pumpkins.
2. Chicken Feed was the original name for candy corn.
Many people argue that candy corn tastes like chicken feed, but that is not how it got its name. George Renninger invented it in the 1880s, and the Goelitz Confectionery Company (now Jelly Belly Co.) popularized it around the turn of the century.
Because corn was used to feed chickens, the product was dubbed “Chicken Feed,” and the box featured a colorful rooster.
3. “Trick-or-treating” is derived from “souling.”
It’s odd to have kids dress up in costumes and go door-to-door like little beggars demanding treats. The tradition, like many other Halloween activities, can be traced back to the Middle Ages and Samhain rituals.
On the night of Samhain, it was believed that phantoms roamed the earth, so people would dress up in costumes to ward off the spirits.
As the Catholic Church began to replace pagan festivals with their own holidays (such as All Souls’ Day), the practice of souling became popular, with poor children and adults going door-to-door dressed as spirits, accepting food in exchange for prayers.
4. There are 30,581 lit jack-o-lanterns on display.
According to Guinness World Records, the City of Keene, New Hampshire had the most lit jack o’lanterns on display in 2013 with 30,581. Keene, who is represented by Let it Shine, has broken the record eight times since the first attempt. That is a lot of pumpkins!
5. There is a lot of fortune-telling and magic in Halloween folklore.
Old English folklore about Halloween is full of superstition and fortune-telling, such as bobbing for apples or avoiding black cats, that still exist today. According to folklore, if a young unmarried person walks down the stairs backwards at midnight while holding a mirror, the face in the mirror will be their next lover.
6. The Day of the Dead should be renamed Days of the Dead.
The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is celebrated in Mexico and a few other Hispanic countries from October 31 to November 2. On November 1st, Dia de los Inocentes, family members decorate graves with baby’s breath and white orchids to honor children who have died. Families honor adults who have died on November 2nd, Dia de los Muertos, by placing orange marigolds on grave sites.
The original Aztec festival lasted a month, but when Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico in the 16th century, they merged it with the Catholic All Saints’ Day. Today’s celebrations include things like skulls, altars to the dead, and food, which were part of Aztec rituals. They also include Catholic masses and prayers.
7. Michael Myers’ mask is a replica of William Shatner’s.
The iconic pale-faced mask worn by psychotic Michael Myers in the 1978 horror film “Halloween” is easily recognized. Without a doubt, it’s one terrifying look that has struck terror into the hearts of slasher movie partygoers.
The film was made on such a low budget that the crew had to use the cheapest mask they could find: a $2 Star Trek Captain James Kirk mask. They spray painted it white and reshaped the eye holes, giving William Shatner a creepy appearance.
8. Halloween originated from an ancient Celtic festival
According to History.com, modern Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celtic end-of-harvest festival of Samhain. People would light bonfires and dress up in costumes to ward off evil spirits on Samhain.
In an effort to spread Christianity, Pope Gregory III declared November 1 as All Saints’ Day and incorporated some Samhain rituals into it in the eighth century. All Saints’ Day was also known as All Hallows’ Day, and All Hallows’ Eve was the night before, when the traditional Samhain festival was held in Celtic regions.
9. Beggars’ Night is a hilarious Des Moines tradition.
For young children, Beggars’ Night was held the night before Halloween in Des Moines. According to a Des Moines Register article, the event began around 1938 as a way to prevent vandalism and provide a safer way for younger children to celebrate Halloween.
Beggars’ Night is similar to trick-or-treating in that children are required to tell a joke, read a poem, or perform a “trick” in exchange for a treat. What’s the best part? “If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?” is one of the most groan-worthy jokes.
10. The White House is haunted
There have been several reports of ghostly appearances and eerie sounds at America’s most famous address, and that doesn’t even include election years! Abraham Lincoln has been seen by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and Sir Winston Churchill as a ghost. Andrew Jackson, David Burns, and Abigail Adams are among the other paranormal guests.