What’s not to like about Halloween? Aside from getting time off from work, Halloween is a perfect holiday. You can wear pajamas in public and call it a costume (Captain Comfort, trademark pending.) The candy is plentiful. The family obligations are minimal. Plus, it’s socially acceptable to spend Halloween at a bar with friends or sitting home alone watching a scary movie. We’re usually not ones to look a free candy gift horse in the mouth, but at some point, we must ask ourselves, what the heck is this marvelous holiday called Halloween? Grab a tiny Twix, because we have the answers.
Here are the answers to all the questions you never thought to ask about Halloween.
WHY DO WE CALL IT HALLOWEEN?
Halloween is a shortened version of Hallows’ Evening and has also been referred to as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, All Hallows’ Day and All Saints’ Eve.
HOW DID IT START?
It’s widely believed that Halloween’s origins were in Celtic harvest festivals, specifically the Gaelic festival Samhain. This festival marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter and was often thought by the pagans to be a time when the dead could walk among the living. Terrifying backstory that feels fitting for the scariest holiday of the year (unless you’re single and count Valentine’s Day as a holiday).
WHAT’S WITH TRICK OR TREATING?
Trick-or-treating started during the Samhain, with people often leaving treats on their doorsteps in hopes of appeasing the dead.
WHY DO WE DRESS UP?
In Scotland and Ireland, the practice of leaving treats out for the dead eventually extended to children dressing up in costumes or disguises, giving us the term ‘guising.’ Children, and sometimes adults, went door to door guising, where they would dance and sing for treats, often targeting the more affluent homes. By those standards, my three-year-old neighbor silently holding up a plastic pumpkin and being rewarded with free candy seems really lazy.
WHAT ABOUT THE RELIGIOUS ASPECTS?
Once taken over from the pagans by the Catholics, October 31st became the beginning of a three-day celebration dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints and martyrs. The church encouraged people to give ‘soul cakes’ to the poor during the All Saints Day parade in England, with the poor promising to pray for a person’s dead relatives in exchange for cakes.
WHAT ABOUT PUMPKINS?
Though pumpkins are now the most common symbol for Halloween, they weren’t the first vegetable associated with the holiday. Guising began in Scotland in the 16th Century, with records of masqueraders using lanterns made out of empty turnips to light their way to homes, where they received cakes, fruit and nuts. When Irish immigrants began moving to the US to flee the potato famine, turnips were difficult to find and were replaced by pumpkins.
OKAY, BUT EXPLAIN JACK-O-LANTERNS.
As for the term Jack o’Lantern, that comes from an Irish tale about Stingy Jack, who tricked the devil. Refused entry into heaven and having made a deal with the devil that his soul wouldn’t be claimed for hell, Jack’s soul was forced to roam the earth for eternity. The tale said that Jack used a piece of coal inside a turnip as a lantern, hence the term Jack o’Lantern. As for the carvings, the Irish would carve scary faces into potatoes and turnips to scare off Jack and other spirits.
WHAT ABOUT TRICK-OR-TREATING IN THE DARK?
Daylight Savings is tied to Halloween. Candy makers have banded together in the past to ensure that Daylight Savings covers Halloween, giving children an extra hour of daylight on October 31 to collect more candy. We don’t like big businesses controlling us, but also…candy.
SEXY COSTUMES ARE A NEW THING, RIGHT?
Kinda. Sexy costumes are now the norm for Halloween, but the holiday does have some historical ties to hook ups. In parts of Ireland, early Halloween celebrations included parties where young men and women had the rare opportunity to socialize. Bobbing for apples was originally a game that predicted future courtships, with some parties featuring fortune tellers that specialized in romance. In other areas, matchmakers would bury rings in mashed potatoes for future suitors to find (and hopefully not choke on!).
SO, HALLOWEEN IS KINDA ROMANTIC?
In Scotland, women named hazelnuts after eligible men in their village and then tossed the nuts into a fire. Whichever nut burned to an ash without popping would tell the woman who she would marry (though in some cases, the opposite was true and the disintegrated nut would represent a love that was merely temporary). In the US, some women used yarn and apple peels tossed over their shoulders on Halloween to help spell the initials of men they would marry. Now we have Tinder.
OKAY, NOW EXPLAIN BLACK CATS.
Black cats are often associated with Halloween because of the belief during the middle ages that witches could turn themselves into black cats. Well, that’s just cool. No longer widely practiced, some shelters in the US previously refused to allow for the adoption of black cats during Halloween, fearing that people would sacrifice them. In conclusion, cats rule, people drool.
BUT THERE WERE NEVER RAZOR BLADES, RIGHT?
Well, there have been dangerous objects hidden in candy and you should check your kiddies stash, but there definitely haven’t been enough cases to stop us from trick or treating.