Ghosts, ghouls, and candy: what’s not to like about Halloween? The supernatural celebration has deep pagan roots and a long history. Plus, who doesn’t want to get into the spooky spirit by watching a couple of horror movies and dressing up as your favorite character? Here are 45 strange but true Halloween facts to tide you over until your favorite holiday arrives.
1. Warding Off Demons
The tradition of wearing scary costumes on Halloween comes from the ancient Celts, and they had a creepy reason for doing so: back then, people believed dressing up as demons and the like would confuse or ward off the evil spirits who roamed the streets during Samhain, a holiday that was essentially the pagan version of Halloween.
2. All Hallow’s Eve
Christians, in an effort to convert pagans, changed Samhain in the 11th century to a three-day celebration from October 31st to November 2nd. The first night of this holiday is called All Hallow’s Eve, which eventually became Halloween.
3. There’s A Name For That
Samhainophobia is the medical term for a pathological fear of Halloween.
4. Jack’s Lantern
People love carving pumpkins at Halloween, but few know the jack-o-lantern’s dark history. According to Celtic lore, a miserly old man used to play tricks on the devil and was thus denied entrance to both heaven and hell. Instead, the old man was condemned to wander the Earth and used his lantern to lead people astray from their paths.
The word “witch” actually comes from an old English word that means “wise woman.” Members of the Wiccan were once highly respected. It was popularly believed that witches held one of their two annual meetings, called sabbats, on Halloween.
6. Owl Omen
Owls are popular Halloween symbols. In medieval times, owls were believed to be witches, and if you heard the call of an owl it meant that someone was about to die.
7. From Beyond the Grave
Legend has it that if you see a spider on Halloween night, it means a loved one is watching over you.
8. Are You Familiar?
Black cats are another symbol of the spooky side of Halloween: if a black cat crosses your path, you’ll be cursed with bad luck. In the Medieval ages, black cats were seen as the familiars of witches, and this belief perpetuated the black cat’s association with bad luck.
9. Going Batty
Bats were also feared as the familiars of witches. Bats have an additional connection to Halloween: the bonfires that the ancient Celts built to celebrate Samhain would often attract the flying mammals.
10. Looking For Toil And Trouble
According to legend, if you put your clothes on inside out and walk backward at Halloween, you’ll see a witch at midnight.
11. Staying Mum
During Samhain, some villagers would dress up in animal skins and dance around the fire to scare away spirits. This practice evolved into mumming in the middle ages, where bands of masked and costumed performers would roam the streets entertaining people in exchange for treats in the form of food or drink.
12. Tricks For Treats
In Scotland and Ireland, young people would go guising, a tradition in which they dressed in costume and visited houses. If they performed a “trick” such as a dance or song, they would be given fruit, nuts, or coins as treats.
13. Going A-Souling
During the celebrations associated with All Soul’s Day on November 2, poor people would knock on the doors of wealthy citizens and be given pastries as treats. Like guising, souling was a precursor to modern trick-or-treating.
14. Prank Show
Scottish and Irish immigrants to North America brought guising and souling with them, but young people began to prefer pranks over performing. By the 1920s, these pranks were starting to cause serious damage to property. The increasing violence of the “tricks” led to the more organized practice of trick or treating.
15. Sugar Crash
In the 1940s, trick or treating was halted because war-time rationing had curtailed the use of sugar.
16. Picky Eaters
50% of children prefer to receive chocolate on Halloween over other types of treats. 24% of children like candy, and 10% would choose gum. Toothbrushes didn’t make the list.
17. House Colors
Halloween is traditionally associated with the colors orange and black: orange because of its link to the fall harvest, and black because of its connection to darkness and death. After all, Samhain was about celebrating the boundary between life and death.
18. The Great Pumpkin
Ron Wallace holds the world record for the largest pumpkin ever grown: a 1,502 pound behemoth he grew in 2006.
19. What a Cut-Up
Yes, “fastest pumpkin carving” is a real event. The record is 16.47 seconds and is held by Stephen Clarke.
20. First Edition
Trick-or-treating was first mentioned in print in North America in 1927 in Blackie, Alberta, Canada.
21. That’s Just Silly
Since 2004, a bizarre law has been enacted on the streets of Hollywood on Halloween. They’ve outlawed the use of silly string for that 24-hour period. There is even a $1,000 fine for either using or selling the party supply on Halloween. Apparently, so many people flock to the area to celebrate, and its use caused so much of a mess for business owners, that the law was necessary.
22. Halloween By The Numbers
Halloween is the second highest-grossing commercial holiday behind Christmas. People in the US spent 8.4 billion in 2016 on candy, costumes, and decorations.
23. Move Over, Tinder
Can bobbing for apples also land you a mate? Maybe. Apples are symbols of fertility, and young women used to mark apples during apple bobbing. If a young man captured her apple while bobbing, that girl had found her match.
24. Get In Line, OKCupid
Another matchmaking tradition had young women peeling an apple on Halloween and then throwing the peel over her shoulder. The peel was then carefully inspected to see if it formed a letter; if so, that letter would indicate the initial of the girl’s future spouse.
25. Like Looking In A Mirror
According to a legend from the late 1800s, if a young woman stared into a mirror in a dark room on Halloween, she would see the face of her future spouse.
26. Burning Nuts
In Scotland, single women were told to choose an array of hazelnuts that each represented one of their potential mates and throw them into the fire on Halloween. The nut that burned, rather than popped, represented her future husband.
27. Hidden Treats
In 18th century Ireland, another tradition had a cook hiding a diamond ring in a bowl of mashed potatoes on Halloween. Whoever was the first to find the ring was sure to find true love.
28. Bad Behavior
Studies have shown that Halloween makes children a little more evil than usual. Children’s identities are hidden, and they are also emboldened by groups. Because of this, Halloween makes children far more likely to steal candy and money.
29. Day of the Dead
In Mexico, people celebrate the Day of the Dead on November 2nd rather than Halloween on October 31st. Celebrants dress up as ghouls and roam the streets.
30. Long In The Tooth
Halloween is thought to be 6,000 years old and was first celebrated around 4,000 BCE.
31. Lantern Festival
During one Halloween festival in China, people hang lanterns shaped like dragons and animals outside their homes to guide spirits back to their homes. Citizens also leave food and water in front of the portraits of their ancestors.
32. Revenge of the Ghosts
In Hong Kong, Halloween is celebrated during the Festival of the Friendly Ghosts. Food is left out and fires are lit in an effort to make angry ghosts a little happier with the living.
33. Killer Night
Children are more than twice as likely to be killed while walking the streets and sidewalks on Halloween than on any other night.
34. Time To Carve The Turnip
Jack-o-lanterns were originally turnips, not pumpkins.
35. Divine Fine
It is illegal to dress up as a priest for Halloween in Alabama, and you can be fined and/or arrested for the offense.
36. Full Moons
Although full moons are also associated with Halloween, a Halloween full moon is quite rare. The most recent Halloween full moons were in 1955, 1974, and 2001. A full moon is also expected on October 31, 2020.
37. Return Of The Dead
Every year since 1927, a séance has been held in the hopes of making contact with Houdini. Houdini had given a code word to his wife Bess before he died and told her he would use it if he were able to cross over from the other world. Bess participated in the séance for 10 years until finally declaring that he wasn’t coming back. The séance, however, continues today without her.
38. Sinister Etymology
Ever have a bonfire on Halloween? Well, the practice has a surprisingly sinister origin. The word bonfire comes from the phrase “bone fire”—yes, that’s right, during Samhain, priests would throw the bones of cattle into the fire.
39. A Tale of Two Masks
The infamous mask from the 1978 film Halloween was almost a clown mask. They had originally thought about going with a clown mask, as a throwback to the night that Michael Myers killed his sister Judith while dressed up as a clown for Halloween. They went for a Star Trek Kirk mask that had been spray-painted because it looked emotionless and they thought that was much creepier than the clown mask.
At that point, the killer clown archetype wasn’t quite what it was today (Stephen King’s It came out eight years later, in 1986). But had they used the clown mask, it would’ve been a chilling omen for the capture of a real-life killer clown, John Wayne Gacy, who was arrested just two months after Halloween was released.
40. Primary Source
James Jude Courtney, who plays Michael Myers in the 2018 version of Halloween, learned how to kill from a former Mafia hitman. The hitman lived with Courtney after getting out of prison. The hitman later went to see a film Courtney directed, The Hit List, and advised that the kills weren’t realistic. Courtney then learned from the best and put the knowledge to use to play Myers.
41. Born Under the Sign of the Devil
Appropriately enough, director Peter Jackson was born on Halloween, 1961. Although he’s best known for the Lord of the Rings franchise, in his early career he was interested in the horror genre, making the horror comedy Bad Taste in 1987 and zombie comedy Braindead in 1992. His breakthrough film Heavenly Creatures from 1994 was based on a terrifying true crime story, where two girls from Christchurch, New Zealand, murdered one of their mothers.
42. Never Too Old?
In 1964, Long Island homeowner Helen Pfeil had a problem. Every year, teens would show up to her house on Halloween asking for candy. She thought they were too old for trick-or-treating, so she came up with an utterly disturbing plan. She handed out treats with arsenic, a crime she was later arrested for.
43. Yes, You Can Be Too Old
Officials in Belleville, Illinois agree with Pfeil that you can be too old. The city banned trick or treating for kids over the age of twelve. Teens who venture out on Halloween for treats can be fined up to $1,000.
44. Tainted Candy Myth
Except for Helen Pfeil, the idea that strangers might tamper with children’s treats is largely a myth. The sad truth is that if a child’s candy is poisoned on Halloween, it’s likely that the child was actually targeted by a member of their own family. In one known case, a child died after ingesting his uncle’s heroin. The heroin was later sprinkled on the candy to shift blame.
In another instance, a father laced his children’s candy with cyanide to collect on life insurance policies he had taken out.
45. Fear Of Clowns
In 2014, the city of Vendargues, France, had a terrifying problem: adults dressed as clowns were terrorizing the town. Since then, it’s been illegal for anyone over the age of 12 to wear a clown costume or makeup on Halloween.