Halloween is a great excuse to dress up (or down) in creepy costumes, neck blood-coloured jello shots, gorge on sweets and gear up for Guy Fawkes’ celebrations.
But as you probably know, Halloween wasn’t always the secular celebration it has become today, with its roots in pagan harvest festivals and the Gaelic festival of Samhain.
It has since been adopted as a Christian celebration and vigil that takes places on the eve of All Saints’ Day, a remembrance day for those who have passed.
It begins the three-day liturgy, Allhallowtide that honours saints and martyrs.
Now though, Halloween has been commercialised for our enjoyment and these are the ways we’ve butchered the traditional holiday.
1. Jack o’ Lanterns weren’t always what they seem
Jack o’ Lanterns, the perishable modern-day interpretation of the death mask, used to be carved from turnips. Pumpkins were only introduced by Irish immigrants in America, as the squash was more readily available to them.
…This is one change I welcome as I’m not sure The Turnip King would’ve had the same ring to it.
2. The Jack o’Lantern tradition comes from Irish folklore
Nevermind pixies, the tale of Stingey Jack is probably the creepiest of all the mythical folk stories told in Ireland.
The story goes like this: A wily man called Jack repeatedly tricks the Devil into promising to spare his soul upon Jack’s death, angering both God and the Devil who refused to let him into either Heaven or Hell when Jack died.
Instead, Jack was left to roam the earth in eternal darkness with only a burning coal inside a turnip to light his way and protect him from dark spirits.
In Ireland and Scotland people still carve terrifying faces into potatoes, beets, turnips and mangelwurzels today – and they make our cartoonish ghouls look tame.
The Ghost Story of Stingy Jack (Jack-o-lantern)
According to legend 'stingy jack' was an Irish drunk and horrid man. One dark and cold Halloween night, stingy jack was staggering drunk and on his way home. He was stopped by the devil to claim his soul. True to his deceitful nature, Jack tricked the devil into letting him have one more drink before his death. The devil agreed and with no silver to give, jack convinced the devil to turn into a coin to pay for his ale. Stingy jack quickly placed the coin in his pocket beside a crucifix – the devil now stuck. Jack made the devil swear he would let him live for 10 years and in return he would set him free. Ten years later, once again stingy jack was met by the devil in order to claim his soul. Jack tricked the devil once again into climbing a tree in order to give him one last apple before his death. Jack surrounded the bottom of tree with crucifixes meaning the foolish devil was again, trapped. Cunning jack made the devil swear he would not take his soul upon his death. With no choice the devil agreed and was set free. Years later stingy jack came to his death – due to his sinful life and hateful ways, Jack was not allowed into heaven and was sent straight to hell. For the final time jack came face to face with the devil – the devil couldn't let him in as he swore never to take his soul. He could only offer him one piece of coal to carry. Bitterly roaming the earth Stingy jack found a turnip to carry his piece of coal in. He now roams the earth with his latern, haunting people wherever he goes. Legend has it that if you carve a turnip and keep it lit Stingy Jack will stay away. #halloween #stingyjack #ghoststory #ghost #pumpkin #jackolatern #turnip #mosthaunted #haunt #halloweve #irishlegend #myth #story #legend #scary #ghouls
3. There’s absolutely nothing silly about Halloween in Hollywood.
By the looks of celebrities’ Halloween game, Hollywood really buys into the pagan holiday. But the Californian authorities banned the use of silly string in Halloween decorations due to a string (ahem) of vandalism incidents.
There’s an $1000 fine associated with the act, which is probably the same amount most A-listers spent on their costumes.
4. Sweets aren’t just for kids.
Trick or Treating can be traced back to the Medieval tradition of ‘souling’, which saw the poor and needy beg at people’s doors for bread and water in exchange for prayers for the dead.
The tradition was observed until souling was banned in America in 1933.
Nowadays, our version of events is much less disturbing or philanthropic. Candy corn is the most popular sweet of choice in the US, but Reese’s peanut butter cups got the most number of votes overall in this survey.
5. Halloween isn’t just about sweets.
The odd food choices we make can be traced back to Christians, some of whom abstained from eating meat on Allhallowtide. Hence, the prevalence of fruit and vegetables in iconic Halloween imagery.
6. Halloween is the anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death.
The world-famous illusionist, magician, escapologist, stunt performer and actor, Harry Houdini eerily died on Halloween in 1926, In Detroit, Michigan.
According to eye-witnesses, Houdini was punched three times in the abdomen by a McGill University student, J. Gordon Whitehead, who allegedly questioned Houdini’s faith at the time of the attack.
Houdini later died due to a ruptured appendix, which may have been caused by Whitehead’s violent outburst.
This is why we bob for apples.
The traditional game of apple bobbing is so much more than a feat of jaw strength and underwater prowess.
It was actually a game created for young girls, the first of whom to bite and hold an apple in her mouth was said to be the next in line to marry… It’s scary what crap people used to tell young girls.
Halloween is scarier for some than others.
Samhainophobia is the morbid fear of Halloween; a genuine phobia that is fuelled by many others, including phasmophobia (fear of ghosts), wiccaphobia (fear of witchcraft), sanguivoriphobia (fear of vampires), chiroptophobia (fear of bats), nyctophobia (fear of darkness), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), skelephobia (fear of skeletons), and placophobia (fear of tombstones).
Stay safe, kids.
Your black cat costume might not be totally inaccurate, after all.
On Halloween, spirits appear in animal form. According to Wiccan mythology, the dead who still roam the earth can be seen as black cats and crows, but also owls, mice, and snakes.
Halloween – much like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and pretty much anything in our yearly calendar that is joyous – comes with a historical (or religious) serious flip-reverse.
While you’re recovering from this weekend’s celebrations, I hope these facts bring your brain back to life.
A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you’ve never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.