Olivia Harvey
September 18, 2017 4:29 pm
Getty Images / Heinz O. Jurisch / ullstein

Costumes, decorations, and scary movies and stories are what make the Halloween season so vibrant and fun. But as we prepare to have our pants scared off, we’re left to wonder about the facts behind Halloween. Why do we celebrate this strange holiday and the things that scare us? Where did our strange but fun Halloween traditions, like trick-or-treating and dressing in costume, come from?

These fairly scary Halloween fun facts should answer all of your creepy queries. We apologize in advance if the truth gives you more a fright than the fiction.

1Halloween originally began as a celebration of the dead.

Unsurprisingly, our modern and fun Halloween traditions stem from darker roots. Some 2,000 years ago, the ancient Celts celebrated Samhain on November 1st. This festival honored the dead but the folks celebrating were sure to keep wandering spirits were kept at bay by taking part in certain rituals. It was believed that on October 31st, the barrier between the living and dead weakened and the dead returned.

History.com writes that people placed food and wine outside their homes to ward off ghosts on the eve before Samhain was celebrated. The ancients would also wear masks during the day to convince spirits that they were fellow ghosts and not living people.

In the 8th century, the Christian church adopted Samhain and turned it into All Saints’ Day and All Hallows’ Eve was celebrated the night before, which is where our modern term, “Halloween,” comes from.

2There are more than a couple spooky Halloween superstitions out there.

Encountering ladders, broken mirrors, and black cats on an average day can lead you down an unlucky path. But if you’re the superstitious type, you may want to stay inside and under your covers on Halloween day.

AmericanFolklore.net writes that if you see bats flying around your home on Halloween night, spirits and ghosts are nearby. If a black cat meows at your window or on your porch, a death will soon occur within the family. And if you hear footsteps behind you on Halloween, don’t look behind you. It might be the dead trying to take you to the other side.

The site writes, “If you hold your breath while you drive by a cemetery, evil spirits can’t enter your body. When passing a graveyard or a house where someone has died, turn your pockets inside out to make sure you don’t bring home ghost in your pocket.” Honestly, yikes!

3Those Samhain “masks” that the ancient Celts wore? Yeah, those were probably just dead animals.

Obviously, times were much different 2,000 years ago and wearing the skulls and hides of slaughtered livestock wasn’t taboo in the slightest. In 2008, National Geographic News talked to Ken Nilsen, a professor of Celtic studies at Canada’s St. Francis Xavier University. Nilsen confirmed that the ancient Celts — and many other ancient cultures — would use animal parts in rituals and sacrifices.

In fact, other pagan tribes wore animal skulls and skins to connect with animal spirits to help them in their day-to-day lives. Being significant parts of nature, animal spirits were called upon often to lend a hand to their human brethren.

4Trick-or-Treating came from the act of “souling” on All Souls’ Day.

According to History.com, in ancient Britain, the poor would beg for “soul-cakes” during All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. If the upper-class citizens agreed to give the needy said soul-cakes, the recipients would pray for the souls of the provider’s deceased relatives.

Later, during the Medieval period, young people would go “guising” during Halloween, which is more aligned with our modern trick-or-treating. Children would dress up and and sing, dance, or recite poetry in order to receive, food, wine, or money from others.

5Jack-o’-lanterns represent the lantern of the lost spirit of Stingy Jack.

According to an old Irish folk story, Stingy Jack sat down to share a drink with the Devil — something we don’t recommend you do. Jack talked the Devil into turning himself into a coin to pay for the drinks without actually paying for the drinks. The Devil did so and Jack put the Devil/coin into his pocket where he also kept a silver cross that kept the Devil from transforming back to his original form.

Jack said he would free the Devil if the Devil agreed to leave Jack alone for a full year, and if Jack died within that year, the Devil was not allowed to take his soul. The Devil obliged and left Jack alone for that year.

When the year was up, the Devil returned to Jack and Jack asked the Devil to pick him a piece of fruit out of a tall tree. When the Devil climbed up into the tree, Jack carved a cross on the bark, so the Devil could not come down until he promised to leave Jack be for ten years.

Jack died soon after their second agreement was made. But because of his deals with the Devil, God would not allow Jack into heaven, and the Devil promised not to take Jack’s soul. The Devil gave Jack a burning coal to light his way as he wanders, lost and unclaimed, into the night. Jack put the coat into a carved turnip, and that’s where the jack-o’-lantern originated. We have goosebumps.

6Celebrating Halloween can actually make kids more evil.

The Huffington Post reported that according to io9.gizmodo.com, Halloween stirs up the perfect storm of factors to lead kids to “deindividuation,” when, “people become less likely to evaluate their own behavior, and less apprehensive over the possibility that they’ll be recognized or observed by others,” the site writes.

Masks and traveling in groups can lead cause deindividuation and bad behavior. The consequences are less severe when the person you’re “tricking” can’t identify you under that costume. Studies found that masked kids between 9 and 13 are more likely to take large quantities of candy compared to those kids who are unmasked. The same happens when kids are put into a group with no clear authority figure.

Keep a keen eye out for evil children this Halloween — that’s all we’re saying.

7A lot of old Halloween traditions revolved around trying to find a match for young single women.

You think having your entire family down your throat about your romantic life is tough as it is? Imagine them all performing rituals on Halloween with the intent to have you married off in a year. History.com says that in the 1700s, Irish cooks would bury a ring in one of their dishes hoping that whoever finds it will find true love in the coming year.

Young women would also toss apple peels over their shoulders on Halloween in hopes that the peels would spell out their future husband’s initials. Scottish fortune-tellers would also tell young women to assign several potential suitors’ names to hazelnuts and throw the hazelnuts in the fire. The nut that burned down to ash rather than popped or cracked would reveal who her future husband would be.

Don’t get any ideas, grandma! We’re fine with being single.

Go forth into the Halloween season feeling educated and prepared to celebrate the scariness to the fullest. Remember to steer clear of the Devil, evil children, and nosy grandmothers while doing so — trust us. They can all really ruin a night.

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