Halloween origins are a jumbled bag from all over the place. In most cases pinning an exact history to any particular custom is a shot in the dark. The truth is that few (if any) of our contemporary holidays popped up fully formed. Rather, they were created slowly over time and added to along the way. Today, while mom’s scramble to put the final touches on the kiddo’s costume AND keep them away from the Trick-or-Treat candy bucket, I am gently shoving Jane Austen aside to share an assortment of Halloween facts and origins. I’m sure Jane is fine with being ignored since she would never understand this Halloween thing anyway!
For this post, I have a bit of history for the most common Halloween associated customs or imagery. I have added trivia questions, also related to the holiday, for a fun test of YOUR Halloween knowledge. Enjoy the take-them-with-a-grain-of-salt “facts.” For the trivia questions, the answers are hidden at the end of the post, but try to answer them without peeking! In the comments, let me know how you did with the quiz, and please share some of YOUR favorite Halloween traditions and memories!
When the Celts were absorbed by the Roman Empire, many rituals of Roman origin overlapped. Among them was the worship of Pomona, goddess of the harvest, often portrayed sitting on a basket of fruits and flowers. The idea behind bobbing for apples seems to have been that snatching a bite from the apple enabled the person to grasp good fortune. Unmarried people would attempt to take a bite out of an apple bobbing in a pail of water, or suspended on a string. The first person to do so was believed to be the next to marry.
Who wrote the famous spooky tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?
Transylvania is a region in which country?
Cats, in general, have long been associated with divinity and magic, many cultures considering them sacred. Black cats were thought to be reincarnated beings with the ability to divine the future. During the Middle Ages, it was believed that witches could turn themselves into black cats. Thus, when such a cat was seen, it was considered to be a witch in disguise.
Bobby “Boris” Pickett composed this holiday hit in 1962. What is the name of the song?
Who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas?
In Pre-Christian Europe, wise women (or men for that matter) who practiced herbal medicine and revered nature were seen as magical. Later this was misinterpreted, leading to the famous witch-hunts of the past. Originally, witches were merely one of the various supernatural beings thought to walk or fly about the earth on Halloween. How or when witches became the symbol of Halloween over other “monsters” and nocturnal creatures is unknown, but probably a marketing ploy!
Which common Halloween vegetable originated in Mexico over 9,000 years ago?
How many people were hanged during the Salem Witch Trials?
Dressing Up in Costumes
1) In Medieval times and places, costumed holiday parading, singing and dancing at May Day, Halloween, and Yule (with different themes, of course, though sometimes with similar characters) became popular in Ireland and the British Isles. Originally these costumed celebrants were adults who would go from house to house receiving drink and food in exchange for their performances.
2) In 1605 Guy Fawkes’ abortive effort to blow up the British Parliament on November 5th led to the creation of “Guy Fawkes Day” celebrated by the burning of Fawkes effigies in bonfires and children dressing in rags to beg for money for the fireworks.
3) Masks had long been a part of the “masquerade” tradition stretching back centuries. People wore masks at Christmas parties and cross-dressed for Twelfth Night.
4) There is also commonly stated reference of Halloween costuming associated with the ancient Celts wearing disguises to confuse the evil spirits roaming on Samhain. The problem with this one as a source is the fact that there is NO concrete documented evidence that the Celts did this!
Mary Shelly published this Gothic novel in 1818 when she was only 21. It is considered one of the first examples of science fiction.
Halloween is the day before which holiday?
Trick or Treat
It is unknown precisely where and when the phrase “trick or treat” was coined. Old World traditions of souling, mumming, and guising became popular in the USA, as they were in Europe. By the 1920s, however, pranks had become the Halloween activity of choice for rowdy young people, for reasons unclear, and this mischief hit a high point during the desperation of the Great Depression. In some parts of the country schools and civic groups sponsored “give aways” of candy and treats to keep young people off the streets. Organized Halloween candy-gifting activities began after WWII, and the custom was firmly established in American popular culture by 1951 when trick-or-treating was depicted in a Peanuts comic strip. (see image below) Then, in 1952, Disney produced a cartoon called “Trick or Treat” featuring Donald Duck and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie (right). Thereafter the phrase was set!
Every Halloween, Charlie Brown helps his friend Linus wait for what character to appear?
Who is said to haunt the White House Rose Garden?
Carving out gourds, potatoes, turnips, and other hard-shell vegetables to place a candle or burning coal within as a light on dark nights is an ancient practice. Where and when the idea of carving faces or pictures onto the shell began is unknown for certain, but usually attributed to the Celts and Irish. Whether this was only done as part of a Halloween ritual to scare away evil spirits or to guide the souls to the meal left out for them is also unclear. Pumpkins eventually became the fruit of choice due to how plentiful they were, how easy to carve, and how lasting compared to other vegetables.
The “Jack” has different legends as well. One is that “Jack” was a name for a night watchman carrying a light. Another possible origin is “Jack” as a spirit who floated through the dark as a mysterious ball of light or ghostly glowing face trying to trick travelers into following to their doom.
Why are the colors black and orange associated the strongest with Halloween?
Count Dracula is based on a real person from history. What was his name?
As much as Halloween advocates want to tie bonfires to sacrifices or some other pagan rites for the coolness factor, the truth is quite uninteresting. Fire was simply the best way to keep warm on a cold night, essential for cooking, and a great way to cast light. At gatherings in ancient times — or even today if hanging out on the beach with friends or at a campground — a big fire served as the focal point for the festivities. That is pretty much it!
According to legend, what does it mean if you see a spider on Halloween?
What is the fear of Halloween called?