Halloween goes by many names: All Hallows' Eve, Hallowe'en (a contraction of All Hallows' Evening), Allhalloween, and All Saints' Eve.
As the witching hour fast approaches, it's best to be informed. Here are a few things you might not know about this strange and supernatural holiday:
1. It hails from Ireland and wasn't always scary
Halloween was originally a Celtic festival called Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season. While Halloween now is associated with creepiness, ghosts celebrated at Samhain were actually those of loved ones, so not meant to be scary.
Fear crept in because it was believed that on October 31st, the lines between the living and the dead blurred. If spirits could come to earth, it meant people here could be transported there, too.
2. It has two self-proclaimed capitals
Two separate towns claim to be the Halloween capital of the world: Salem, Massachusetts and Anoka, Minnesota.
3. Trick-or-treating was originally about prayer
Back in the time of Samhain, the poor visited the homes of the rich, where they promised to pray for the souls of the rich family's ancestors in exchange for pastries called soul cakes. This was known as souling, a tradition later taken up by children who went door-to-door asking for gifts like money, food, and ale.
Eventually, the promise to pray for dead relatives was replaced by the sharing of a song, poem, joke, or other kind of performance "trick." Thus a "trick" for a "treat," which was usually fruit, nuts or coins.
4. Certain places have Halloween laws
- In some cities, kids over 12 are banned from trick-or-treating, and teens who try face up to $1,000 fines
- In Alabama, it's illegal to dress-up as a priest
- In Hollywood, you can get a $1,000 fine for using Silly String on Halloween
5. Traditional Halloween food wasn't candy
Samhain was traditionally associated with barmbrack, a speckled fruit bread with sultanas, raisins, and other objects baked in. Each object came with a prediction: if your piece had the pea, you wouldn't get married that year; the stick meant you'd have an unhappy marriage; the rag meant you'd be poor; the coin, rich; and the ring, that you'd get married that year.
(Hint: If you're having a Halloween party, bake this bread. It's a great party game.)
6. Halloween in the U.S. really was scary for a while
By the 1920s, engaging in pranks on Halloween was popular -- and often dangerous. It was common for major cities to see rowdy young people causing over $100,000 in damage each year.
The issue worsened during The Great Depression, with pranks frequently devolving into vandalism, assault, and other forms of violence. Some say it was such danger that led to the heavily organized, community-based trick-or-treating that took hold in the 1930s. The trend was put on pause during World War II, when children couldn't trick-or-treat because of sugar rationing.
The baby boom saw the resurgence of trick-or-treating, particularly since, with no more sugar rationing, candy companies got involved. They launched numerous ad campaigns specifically around Halloween.
7. The average American will eat roughly 3.5 pounds of candy on Halloween
That's how much a small Chihuahua weighs.
8. After Christmas, Halloween is the highest-grossing holiday
In 2015, Halloween spending was close to $7 billion. The average American thus spends around $75 on candy, costumes, decorations, and more. This year, Americans will spend $310 million on pet costumes alone.
9. Costumes were initially meant to be protective
Since the Celts believed that on Halloween, the worlds of the dead and living overlapped, they thought demons roamed the earth that night. Dressing as one of them was meant to be defensive; if you ran into a real demon, the idea was they'd think you were one of them.
10. Apparently, the Brits hate Halloween
In a 2006 survey, over half of British homeowners admitted to turning off their lights and pretending not to be home on Halloween night.
11. Halloween 2020 will be especially spooky
It's extremely rare for a full moon to fall on Halloween night. That's exactly what will happen on October 31st, 2020. Beware of werewolves.
12. A statistic that's actually chilling
On Halloween night, children are over twice as likely to be killed in a car/pedestrian accident than any other night. Drive carefully and keep kids close.
13. Want to see a real witch on Halloween? Do this
Apparently, to see a witch at midnight, you should wear your clothes inside out and walk backwards. Fortunately, on All Hallows' Eve, this will be neither the strangest outfit nor oddest behavior on display.
When witches go riding,
and black cats are seen,
the moon laughs and whispers,
'tis near Halloween.
There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch.
~ Robert Brault