16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew

Trista - October 30, 2018

While many of the trappings of Halloween are widely known, such as the witches, ghosts, skeletons, zombies and more, many of the holiday’s traditional roots are lost in the past. Halloween’s ties to Samhain, the Celtic harvest festival, are frequently forgotten. The incredible and lasting impact of Europe’s Christianization also had a significant role in shaping modern Halloween, down to its very name. Many modern facets of Halloween are also overlooked, including the role the candy industry has reportedly played in Daylight Savings Time, the vast sums of money Americans spend on costumes for their pets, and the false and trumped-up danger of strangers looking to give poisoned candy to trick-or-treaters.

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
An illustration of English Halloween festivities. Wikimedia.

16. Halloween is the Wiccan New Year

The origins of Halloween lie in the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced SOW-win.) Samhain was a harvest festival that also marked the entry into the dark half of the year. At Samhain, the Celts believed the veil between the worlds of the dead and living were thinner than usual, and subsequently the dead could walk the earth. Bonfires and costumes marked the festival, with the former meant to ward off the dead while the latter were worn to confuse them.

The modern religion of Wicca draws a great deal of inspiration from Celtic paganism. Samhain, being one of the chief festivals of Celtic paganism along with Beltain, plays a central role in the Wiccan faith. October 31st is one of the sabbats, or holy days, for Wiccans. Many Wiccans actually observe October 31st as their New Year celebration.

For Wiccans, the October 31st sabbat or New Year is marked by celebrating the harvest, the changing of the seasons and everything that has been accomplished in the preceding year. The Wiccan “wheel of the year,” their calendar, also lists October 31st as the day their god dies, to be reborn on the winter solstice. Therefore, Wiccans also believe that the veil between life and death is thinnest on Halloween.

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
The full moon. Wikimedia.

15. Halloween Full Moons Are Relatively Rare

A popular and enduring Halloween image is a full circle looming over the landscape, especially if it’s a large, golden harvest moon. Many Halloween-themed movies and television programs include the full lunar look, whether through plot device or showing the starry sky itself. Anyone who has trick-or-treated under a full moon likely remembers the beautiful glow aiding in their nighttime travels. However, despite how fabled the Halloween full moon is, it is a relatively rare occurrence.

The next Halloween with a full moon will occur in 2020. The previous full ones date back to Halloween 2001 and 1955. The entire 21st century will see only six Halloween full moons: 2001, 2020, 2039, 2058, 2077, and 2096. Astronomers have found that the frequency of this phenomenon occurring on a specific date is twice within any 59 year period.

If one wants an infrequent Halloween lunar occurrence, keep your fingers crossed for a Halloween black moon or blue moon. Due to the slight mismatch between the lunar and Gregorian calendars, some months have either two new moons or two full ones. In 2016, October saw two new moons, which is called a black moon. Halloween 2020 will see a blue moon!

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
A person covered in silly string. Reddit.

14. Silly String Carries a $1,000 Halloween Fine in Hollywood

Hollywood often conjures images of partying and excess, and it turns out that Halloween is no exception. Every year, hordes of revelers would descend on Hollywood to party in their costumes. One item the frequently brought was Silly String; the infamous mess-maker often used at senior proms and other light-hearted events. Silly String creates its havoc due to some exciting science. The string is a plastic that sprays from a can in a fluid thanks to the aerosol. As the stream leaves the can, the solvent that creates the liquid texture quickly evaporates which forms a continuous strand of thin plastic.

Silly String became so popular that street vendors began appearing along Hollywood streets selling the product. These vendors were illegally set-up without permits to sell the messy product. The mess and vandalism associated with Silly String became so severe that, starting in 2004, Silly String has been completely banned in Hollywood.

Revelers who attempt to use Silly String within Hollywood city limits will face steep penalties. The minimum charge is a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail. This fine extends to mere possession of the product within city limits, so be warned! The ban’s window runs from 12:01 a.m. on October 31st to 12:00 p.m. on November 1st.

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
Vintage homemade Halloween costumes. Youtube.

13. The Celts Gave Us Costumes

The Celtic festival of Samhain has given us many of our modern Halloween traditions, including the practice of wearing costumes. The Celts believed that Samhain, in addition to being a harvest festival, also marked the time of year during which the veil between the living and dead became porous allowing the dead and other spirits to walk the world of the living.

The Celts cleverly came up with several ways to ward off these spirits. The first was giant bonfires, a hallmark of the Samhain festival. These bonfires were intended to scare and ward off the forces of darkness that would be able to pass over into the land of the living. The second was wearing costumes. It was believed doing so would confuse the spirits, especially if they were looking for a specific person to enact some haunting or revenge.

Costumes continue to be immensely popular, though likely not to confuse spirits any longer. Americans spend millions of dollars on Halloween costumes every year. They even spend millions on costumes for the furry members of their family, with pet costumes becoming a burgeoning industry. While pre-made purchased costumes are popular now, many photographs exist of genuinely terrifying homemade outfits that children wore in 19th and early 20th century America.

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
St. Patrick’s cathedral in Ireland. Wikimedia.

12. Catholics Gave Us the Term Halloween

While the Celts gave us many of our Halloween traditions through the festival of Samhain, the Catholic Church gave us the name Halloween itself. As the Catholic Church set about Christianizing Europe, it tried to incorporate pagan traditions into proper Christian holidays to make the religion more enticing and interesting to European pagans. One holiday that received this treatment was Samhain.

The Catholic Church moved All Saint’s Day, which was originally in May, to November 1st, the day after Samhain, to incorporate the pagan rites and traditions of Samhain into a significant Christian holiday. The Church began to refer to October 31st as All Hallow’s Eve, as a standard early name of All Saint’s Day was All Hallow’s or All Hallow’s Day.

Over time, All Hallow’s Eve began to be shortened to Hallow’s Eve. Over time, this became shortened even further to Hallowe’en, a shortened contraction of the evening. Once the apostrophe was dropped, we have the holiday as we know it. In many parts of the world, the Catholic, or at least Christian, association with Halloween is still quite active. Many countries hold Halloween church services that include visiting graves to light candles. Some Christians also abstain from eating meat on Halloween, as other holy days, and eat vegetarian autumn food including potato, pumpkin, and apple.

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
An illustration of numerous Halloween symbols. Hudson Valley Country.

11. Popular Halloween Symbols Have Pagan Roots

Many of the symbols of Halloween seem engineered to be spooky and sell decorations. However, these symbols are neither designed by marketers nor merely random; they have roots in historical paganism. Black cats, spiders, and bats are all associated with Halloween decorations due to their ancient association with witchcraft.

Black cats, spiders, and bats were all believed by medieval Europeans to be the familiars of witches. In European folklore, familiars are malevolent entities that take on animal or humanoid forms and aid witches in their practice of black magic. Common types of familiars were believed to be black cats, insects, bats, frogs, toads, rats, and other small animals. Due to the association with witchcraft, cats, spiders, and rats are also tied to bad luck. Older Americans may still remember the folklore of never wanting a black cat to cross your path. The identification of familiars played a role in the German and American witch trials, so having a black cat may truly have been bad luck.

The festivities of Samhain themselves also cemented the idea that black cats, spiders, and bats were associated with Halloween. The large bonfires of Samhain would drive spiders and other insects away from the conflagration. The heat, light, and sound would conversely attract bats and small animals to the area.

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
Colorful pieces of candy. Wikimedia.

10. The Candy Industry Supposedly Lobbied for Daylight Savings Time

Despite its regular appearance, Daylight Savings Time has long been a contentious issue with some states choosing not to adopt the standard and others moving to drop it. Daylight Savings Time was enacted with the idea of setting clocks forward one hour in spring and backward one hour in autumn to maximize the number of daylight people can engage with during their normal waking and working hours. Daylight Savings Time was also believed to reduce energy use and was especially popular during the American energy crisis of the 1970s.

In autumn, we set our clocks “back,” thereby gaining an hour. This causes mornings to be brighter but darkness to come earlier in the evening. Up until the 1980s, Daylight Savings Time fell before Halloween, which meant trick-or-treating began earlier in the day and ended in the early evening when it became too dark to see.

It didn’t go unnoticed by the candy industry that Daylight Savings Time was robbing children of time that could be spent collecting their candy, having been purchased by generous adults. It was reported that, in 1985, the candy lobby put a pumpkin bucket filled with candy on the seat of every senator before a hearing on Daylight Savings Time. The candy industry denies this claim, but anyone familiar with lobbying would certainly think it’s a plausible tale.

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
An illustration of Halloween silhouettes dancing. The Nerd Bird.

9. You Used to Have to Dance For Your Treats

Those with two left feet, beware; in the past, you would have had to showcase your dance moves to receive your Halloween treat. Doubtless, this is the scariest Halloween tradition of all for those who hate to dance. An early form of trick-or-treating was the European tradition of “mumming” or “guysing,” in which groups of costumed children would go door to door and perform coordinated dances, songs and skits in return for treats. In early America, the practice was followed on Thanksgiving Day, a tradition which has long since died out but is perhaps remembered in Thanksgiving Day parades.

In some early American varieties of trick-or-treating, adult men went from door to door asking for coins, which lent truth to the initial term “beggar’s night” for Halloween. Children started to get in on the fun and roamed door to door asking for coins as well. This practice died out in the early 20th century.

The modern form of trick-or-treating emerged near the middle of the 20th century as a way to redirect children from mischief to fun. Des Moines, Iowa was an early site of the organized trick-or-treat effort after a record 500 police calls were made due to rampant vandalism in the city. Halloween editions of comic strips such as Ozzie and Harriet and Peanuts helped popularize and encourage the modern trick-or-treating tradition in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
A scene from The Children of the Corn. IMDB.

8. Halloween May Actually Make Kids Evil

From The Children of the Corn to Omen, few things are more unsettling and terrifying than evil children. Possessed or inherently evil children are a popular figure in horror films, with a particularly famous example being The Exorcist, in which a demonic entity possesses a young girl. Perhaps even more frightening than these fictional examples is the idea that the very holiday of Halloween, and its associated traditions, may make regular, everyday children slightly evil as a result of engaging in the festivities.

Having children dress up and head out together in groups with a common goal (in this case candy) has been shown to lead to “deindividuation,” a state in which group members feel less responsible for their own reactions as a result of being so deeply immersed in group behavior.
Specific studies of this Halloween deindividuation in children have found that costumed, unsupervised children are more likely to steal candy and money than both children not in a group and non-costumed children. Masked children were also exposed to be more likely to take more candy than they were supposed to if they believed there was no adult supervision. It would seem the only real monsters on Halloween are precocious masked children run amok!

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
A black cat with hair raised. Wikimedia.

7. Animal Shelters Don’t Adopt Out Black Cats in October

Urban legends abound of Satanic rituals involving the sacrifice of black cats in October. In 1999, the director of animal placement for the ASPCA went on record saying “This is a time when blood rituals take place. Black cats are often sacrificed.” Despite there being no actual evidence that black cats are in any danger during October, this statement from a high ranking animal rights worker cemented the legend in the minds of many.

Today, many shelters still refuse to adopt out black cats during the week surrounding Halloween and, in some areas, the entire month of October. The persistent association of black cats with witchcraft and Satanism, due to the black cat’s popular historical image as the favorite form of a witch’s familiar, has led many to believe those with malign intent will adopt the cats.

While there is no evidence that black cats are in danger of blood sacrifice during October, there is one very present and real danger: being treated as costume accessories. Much like puppies given as gifts for Christmas or baby chicks purchased during Easter, there is a real, and justified, fear that black cats adopted near Halloween will be used as a costume accessory only to be unceremoniously dumped or returned after the costume party is over.

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
A postcard featuring the folk ritual of eating an apple before a mirror. Spooky Hollows Shop.

6. Halloween Has Strong Ties to Romance

While the holiday of skeletons, witches and ghouls may not seem ripe for romance, many of the historical traditions of Halloween do, in fact, feature romance. Part of Samhain’s legacy on Halloween is the belief in the thinning of the veil between the spirit world and the world of the living. Divination was believed to be more powerful and successful on Halloween as a result. What do young people partaking of festivities want to use divination for? Romance, of course.

Many of the traditional fortune telling activities of Halloween focused on attempting to invoke the face, name, and disposition of one’s future spouse. Many of the divination rituals used abundant fall foods like apples or kale. Apple rituals included eating an apple in front of a mirror while saying some magic words by candlelight. The face of one’s future spouse was said to appear. Kale was pulled from the ground on Halloween, with the shape of the stalk and roots designating the future spouse’s physical appearance, while the flavor indicated his or her disposition.

The Halloween postcards of the Victorian era often portrayed the romantic rituals of the holiday. One famous example shows a young Victorian woman eating an apple in front of a mirror by candlelight, a traditional and widespread ritual of the time. These cards would have often been exchanged between suitors and their intended paramours, as mailed or hand-delivered cards were a common element of courtship.

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
A traditional Jack-o’-Lantern preserved in a museum. Wikimedia.

5. The Original Jack-o’-Lanterns Were Turnips or Beets

The tradition of carving lanterns, which would later be called jack-o’-lanterns, began in Europe. Pumpkins, on the other hand, are a crop from the New World and would not have been widely available in Europe until long after the tradition of carving lanterns had begun. Before the importation of pumpkins would have occurred, Samhain and Halloween lanterns were carved from native root vegetables such as turnips and beets.

When Irish immigrants, fleeing the 19th-century potato famine, came to America they brought with the tradition of carving turnips for Halloween. However, turnips were not widely cultivated in the United States at the time, and pumpkins were more plentiful. Thus was born the American tradition of pumpkin jack-o’-lanterns. Pumpkin carving is big business now, with millions of pumpkins being sold every autumn in the United States alone.

The name Jack-o’-Lantern comes from a folk story about a mean-spirited and tight-fisted farmer who continually plays tricks on the devil. When the farmer finally died, the devil got his revenge. He forced Jack to wander purgatory forever, with only a burning lump of coal from hell to light his way. Jack, still being a bright man, carved a turnip lantern to contain the burning lump of coal and help guide his lost soul out of purgatory.

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
A Jack-o’-Lantern bucket with Halloween candy. Wikimedia.

4. Halloween Is the 2nd Most Commercial US Holiday

Christmas is the most commercial holiday in the United States, with gift giving driving the bulk of the spending. However, Halloween has taken the second spot as one of America’s most commercial holidays. Americans spend an average of over 6 billion dollars a year on Halloween between costumes, decoration, themed foods and, and candy. Despite sounding like a lot, 6 billion still barely holds a torch to the almost 500 billion Americans spend annually on Christmas.
About a third of the six billion dollars spent on Halloween is spent on candy. If measured in chocolate, that much spending would equate to approximately 90 million pounds of chocolate bars. While every state has its own favorite candy, based on total purchases, some current favorites are Snickers, Twix, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Pixy Stix.
A rapidly growing area of spending is costumes…for pets. Americans spent over 300 million dollars on pet costumes in 2015, a number which is only expected to increase as pets continue to be treated more and more as members of the family. For those who are curious, the most popular dog costume in 2015 was the Star Wars Sith Lord, Darth Vader. Yoda and Ewoks also made the top 10 most popular pet costumes.

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
Herne’s Oak from The Merry Wives of Windsor. Patheos / Google Art Project.

3. Halloween Is More Irish Than St. Patrick’s Day

When one thinks of Irish holidays, St. Patrick’s Day is undoubtedly the first to come to mind. However, St. Patrick’s Day is mostly an Irish-American invention that has inflated what was once a minor religious holiday into a celebration of all things “Irish.” In reality, St. Patrick may well not have been Irish himself, and the color green would have been the blue woad color of the Celts. St. Patrick’s most significant accomplishment was also driving paganism out of Ireland – the very idolatry which gave us all Halloween through the genuinely Irish festival of Samhain.

Samhain was a Celtic festival that marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year. It was also believed to be a time in which the veil between the lands of the living and the dead was its thinnest, allowing spirits to walk amongst the living. Bonfires were lit during Samhain to help drive away spirits and other spectral visitors. Masks and costumes were worn to make the wearers unrecognizable to hostile spirits.

As Europe turned to Christianity, the Catholic Church took elements of Samhain to create a festival before the Christian holiday of All Saint’s Day. All Saint’s Day (also known as All Hallows) was moved from May to November 1st to create the hybrid holiday to appeal to pagans. The name Halloween comes from a shortening of All Hallow’s Eve to Hallow’s Eve to Hallowe’en and

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
A postcard showing spooky stalks of kale. Past and Present.

2. People Used To Exchange Halloween Post Cards Like Christmas Cards

While most Americans are likely familiar with the holiday tradition of exchanging Christmas or holiday cards, there is a widely forgotten similar tradition of exchanging Halloween postcards. In the Victorian era, Halloween became a popular time to exchange greetings with brightly colored, spooky notes.

In the Victorian era, Halloween still retained many folk traditions concerning romance and diving one’s romantic future. Halloween postcards played up these traditions, with countless postcards showing couples surrounded by pumpkins, women conjuring the faces of men from cauldrons, and other festive, romantic imagery. Given that postcards and calling cards were common tools of courtship in the Victorian era, it would appear Halloween got in on the wild fun.

Postcard collectors especially prize Halloween ones due to their colorful and unique imagery, many of which are tied to long-forgotten Halloween customs. One famous example shows stalks of floating kate with a poem about bonny sweethearts. During the era, a favorite game was pulling up a kale stalk blindfolded. The shape of the stem foretold your future lover’s form, while the flavor of the stalk foretold their temperament. The sweeter, the better! Other postcards referenced customs such as eating an apple while looking in a candle-lit mirror to see the face of one’s future spouse.

16 Surprising Facts About Halloween You Never Knew
A mugshot of the “Candy Man” killer Richard O’Bryan. New York Daily News.

1. A Family Committed the Only Halloween Candy Poisonings

Despite the dire headlines warning of poisoned candy every year, the reality is that no accidental poisonings of Halloween candy have ever been recorded. Only two candy poisonings have ever been recorded, and both were committed in the 1970s within families. In both cases, the poisonings were committed by family members to either conceal or commit another crime.

The first recorded Halloween candy poisoning was in 1970. A little boy died of a heroin overdose, and police found traces of the drug in his Halloween candy. However, it later came to light that the boy had found his uncle’s stash of heroin and consumed some, leading to his death. Hoping to pin the crime on someone else instead of revealing the family’s drug secret, the family knowingly sprinkled heroin on the boy’s candy to implicate a stranger.
The second, and final, recorded Halloween candy poisoning occurred in 1974. Timothy O’Bryan, of Pasadena, Texas, died after eating a Pixy Stick that was found to contain potassium cyanide poison. His father attempted to blame one of the houses they’d trick-or-treated at, but he couldn’t remember which one or any details beyond a “hairy arm.” It was later found that Richard, his father, had taken out a significant life insurance policy on the boy just days before Halloween and had asked coworkers where to buy cyanide.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“13 Facts You Never Knew About Halloween” Megan Willett, Business Insider. October 2013.

“8 Super Weird Things You Didn’t Know About Halloween” Staff writer, Huffington Post. October 2014.

“The History of Halloween and Its Postcards” S&C ETC., Past & Present. October 2014.

“The most popular Halloween candy in every state” Leanna Garfield, Business Insider. October 2016.

“Americans will spend $350 million on Halloween costumes. For their pets.” Lou Carlozo, Christian Science Monitor. October 2015.

“I’m Wiccan and This is What Halloween Means to Me” Emma Cueto, Bustle. October 2013.

“Rare Halloween Black Moon Explained” Victoria Jaggard, National Geographic. October 2016.

“Ask Tom: How often is there a full moon on Halloween?” Tom Skilling, Chicago Tribune. October 2015.

“If You Want to Adopt a Black Cat, You May Have to Wait Until Halloween Is Over” Danny Lewis, Smithsonian. October 2016.