These Are All The Things You Never Knew About Halloween

by : Francesca Donovan on : 31 Oct 2016 17:10

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.

halloween_swedenhalloween_swedenWikimedia/Kaj Bjurman

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.

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.

halloween_food_markethalloween_food_marketWikimedia/Lucinda Jolly

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.

harry_houdiniharry_houdiniThe Library of Congress, McManus-Young Collection

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.

apple-bobbing-halloweenapple-bobbing-halloweenWikimedia/Scribner's Magazine

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.

Francesca Donovan

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.

Topics: News, Crazy


  1. Metro

    14 things you didn’t know about Halloween