It’s All Hallow’s Eve, my friends, and people from age 3 to age 99 will be dressing up in costume, eating and handing out candy, and partying the night away on this spooky, festive night. Most people know the history of Halloween at this point: 16 century Celts believed that the dead and the supernatural could walk amongst the living at a certain time of year and the best way to protect against them was to be disguised that way. Over the years, the holiday has changed, grown, and mutated…as Western Culture is wont to do with holidays over several generations. Below are Five Random Facts About Halloween you just might not know.
5. It’s Newer In America Than You Think. It seems that Halloween traditions have been around as long as Western Culture itself. The truth, however, is that it took much longer to catch on here than people realize. Trick-or-Treating, where children dress in costume and go door-to-door asking for candy, is probably the most known and practiced Halloween tradition, and it dates back to the 16th century. British, Scottish, and Irish people would go to the doors of wealthier citizens on November 1st (Hallowmas) and offer to pray for the souls of the dead (November 2nd is All Soul’s Day) in exchange for food. The tradition was known as “Souling”, and it is often compared to wassailing at Christmas, where people to door-to-door singing carols for treats and gifts. Despite the fact that it has existed for centuries, “souling” was not common in North America, and there’s little recording of children dressing in disguise and asking for treats before the 1930s. For generations, “souling” and Halloween festivities were celebrated separately, only coming together over the last part of the past century. The term “Trick-or-Treat” did not even appear in a national publication until 1939.
4. The Nightwatchman Has Evolved Into a Pumpkin. Every Halloween, people put creatively carved pumpkins on their doorstep as a symbol of the spooky festivities being underway. Called “Jack-o-Lanterns”, a pumpkin is hallowed out, a face is carved upon it, and a candle is placed inside to illuminate the artwork. Legends abound regarding the history of the Jack-o-Lantern, many about a man named “Jack” who tricked the Devil and avoided eternity in Hell. Some of these tales involve Jack being tricked right back, forced to wander the earth with a Hell-flame in a pumpkin, waiting an eternal resting place that will never come, since neither Hell nor Heaven will take him. Cautionary tales aside, the actual history has nothing to do with Biblical caution. The term jack-o’-lantern originally meant a night watchman, or man with a lantern, with the earliest known use in the mid-17th century. Pumpkin carving evolved from the Irish tradition of carving turnips, pumpkins being more plentiful in North America. Jack-0-Lanterns were also a Thanksgiving tradition, eventually adopted almost exclusively by Halloween festivities.
3. Everyone is Doing It. For a holiday that has been around for about a century in North America, Halloween is hugely popular. More than 93% of children (under 13) go trick-or-treating every year. Over 85% of North Americans decorate their houses for Halloween and more than 10% of pet owners dress their animals for the holiday. Every year, there is someone you know who will tell you that they “don’t celebrate Halloween” or refuse to dress in costume or even give out candy to Trick-or-Treaters. Those people are firmly in the minority, as the rest of the continent participates some way or another. Over 50% of North American adults will dress in costume during the season and around 70% will attend or throw a party of some sort.
2. Kids Have Been Safer Than You Think. Every year, there’s a “Candy Scare” in every other city in North America. In the 80s, the big scare was razor blades. Awful people were reportedly putting razor blades in candy and, more specifically, candy apples. Over the years, the candy tampering scare has risen to the point that some clinics and hospitals offer free x-rays of children’s candy bags. All of this is much ado about nothing, it seems, because there have been reportedly only five cases of Halloween candy tampering, each of which was an isolated case of deliberate poisoning by a family member (!) and not anonymous tampering. Reported deaths from Halloween candy tampering since 1974? One. The culprit was the child’s father. In fact, almost every case of “candy tampering” over the past thirty years has been either unsubstantiated (as is often the case with Urban Legends) or an outright hoax. Most of the cases have been proven to be falsified claims by family members and outright hoaxes by the children themselves. It seems that the “Candy Tampering Scare” of the late 70s and 80s perpetuated more candy tampering (and false claims of tampering) than it ever stopped, as most reported cases were the result of media scare than actual occurrences. So, chances are you’ll never find a razor blade in your kids’ candy. An easy solution? Eat half of everything they bring home yourself.
1. It’s a HUGE Money Maker. Of course Halloween is popular. But more so than you might think. In fact, Halloween is the second-biggest commercial holiday of the year, only behind Christmas. Candy cash alone skyrockets every October. More than 35 million pounds of candy corn will be produced this year. Not too shabby for a treat that most people only eat once a year. Halloween candy sales exceed two billion dollars per year, surpassing both Christmas and Easter. The average household spends over 20 bucks per year on Halloween candy, whether it’s for the kids or just for hoarding. 1.5 billion dollars is spent every year on Halloween costumes that most people will only wear once, and an additional 2 billion dollars is spent on random other Halloween accessories. All told, North Americans will spend around seven billion dollars this year on Halloween, all things considered. Halloween appears to be one of those traditions that is recession proof, as each year people spend more than the year before, and profits for candy and costumes soar. The average amount spent per person on all things Halloween? 70 bucks per year.
There you have it. A quick list of random things about All Hallow’s Even you just might not have known. Quick addition: Most common candy given out every year in North America? Snickers miniatures. And, if you’re thinking of dressing as Batman, know that he’s one of the top five costumes every year. What are you doing for Halloween this year?