It’s creepy and it’s kooky, mysterious and spooky… it’s all together ooky. No, I’m not talking about the Addams Family. I’m talking of course about Halloween – the wonderful holiday where we can all dress as someone else and eat a bunch of tasty treats.
You’ve been celebrating it for years, but you may not know where all the fun traditions come from. Be afraid…. be very afraid as we dive into the haunting history of Halloween!
How Did Halloween Start and Why?
It may seem odd, but Halloween has a lot to do with the bible. Christians would honor the saints and the spiritual connection between heaven and Earth during All Saints Day. Halloween is inspired by the night before, which was known as All Hallows’ Eve.
It was said that the line between our world and the afterlife was especially thin around All Hallows’ Eve. Harvest time in particular meant earlier nights, colder temperatures, and a difficulty in sustaining food, especially during the Middle Ages. Death was always lurking around the corner and spirits were said to freely roam around during October. This is why Halloween has the spooky, ghostly atmosphere we know and love today.
Spooky Stats About Halloween
- 175 million Americans celebrated Halloween in 2018 and the numbers keep growing.
- There were an estimated 41.1 million trick-or-treaters in 2017.
- 25% of all the candy sold in a year in the United States is bought for Halloween.
- The National Confectioners Association estimates that Americans spend $2.7 billion a year on Halloween candy.
- 20% of Americans plan on buying a Halloween costume for their pet.
- According to CNBC, the Headless Horseman in New York was voted the #1 scariest haunted house in the United States.
- Roughly 2 billion pounds of pumpkins are harvested annually for Halloween.
- 75% of Americans purchase Halloween décor like animatronic clowns, fog lights, and skeletons.
How Did Trick or Treating Start?
Trick or treating comes from the Celtic celebration of Samhain, a festival that marked the beginning of winter or the “dark half” of the year.
On the nights leading up to Samhain, the Irish would wear costumes and go door to door singing songs to the dead. Nuts, money, or baked treats called soul cakes were received in exchange. This practice was then adapted by the Christians and renamed All Souls Day. Hence the “treats.”
The “trick” part comes from Bonfire Night, which took place all over England. The Scottish and Irish immigrants then brought this tradition of causing mayhem and pulling pranks to America in the 19th century, and just like that, Halloween became a recognized holiday!
Did You Know?: The term “trick or treating” was first used in a magazine called American Home in 1939.
The Origin of Popular Halloween Traditions
A bunch of strange traditions other than trick or treating exist for Halloween. Here’s where they all come from:
Bobbing for Apples
You can thank the Romans for the tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween. The origins are traced to a festival that honored Pomona, the goddess of agriculture and abundance.
Dancing the Monster Mash
This graveyard smash first hit airwaves in 1962. The song, which was written by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, ended up topping the Billboard charts twice and was even banned by the BBC for being “too morbid.”
The tradition of carving jack o’ lanterns comes from Irish lore. As the story goes, a man named Stingy Jack was trapped by the devil over and over again. When Jack died, his soul was too corrupted to make it to an angelic afterlife. He was gifted a lump of burning coal by the devil which he carried around in a turnip and used to ward off evil spirits.
Try carving your own pumpkins with these
cool downloadable stencils!
The reason we wear costumes on Halloween goes back to the Celtic celebration of Samhain. The Celts would wear clever disguises so as not to be detected by the evil spirits, ghouls, and ghosts wandering around on Earth.
Visiting Haunted Houses
Haunted houses got their start in London where Marie Tussaud freaked out the masses with her wax sculptures in the “Chamber of Horrors.” Walt Disney saw the magic in ghostly places like this and opened Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion in 1969. From that point on, haunted houses were super popular in the United States.
Telling Ghost Stories
Ghost stories go all the way back to the first century A.D. Greek and Roman authors scribed tales that were told orally around fires. This tradition continued into the Medieval Era and has since been part of many cultures around the world.
Watching Scary Movies
What’s Halloween without a scary movie? The world’s first horror movie was called The Haunted Castle and came out in 1896. It was a French film from influential director Georges Méliès.
Underrated Scary Movie Recommendations
Halloween, Scream, and Child’s Play are obvious choices, but check out some of these other underrated movies!
Here are five underrated horror movies to watch this Halloween:
- The People Under the Stairs (1991)
- Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
- Phantasm (1979)
- Await Further Instructions (2018)
- The Belko Experiment (2016)
#1: The People Under the Stairs
Release Year: 1991
This Wes Craven hidden gem focuses on a young boy named Fool who gets caught in a house occupied by a sadistic family. It’s campy, fun, and suspenseful.
#2: Trick ‘r Treat
Release Year: 2007
A pumpkin-headed spirit named Sam weaves together tales of terror that focus on the traditions and lore behind Halloween. You’ll laugh, cringe, and feel nothing but love for the holiday… or pay the price.
Release Year: 1979
Teenagers end up facing off against a mysterious grave robber known as The Tall Man and super weird stuff ensues. There are five films in the series, so get your popcorn ready!
#4: Await Further Instructions
Release Year: 2018
Almost everyone mindlessly watches TV, but this movie proves just how dangerous that can be. A family finds themselves in a nightmare as they “await further instructions” from their television and try to survive.
#5: The Belko Experiment
Release Year: 2016
Anyone who works in an office needs to check out this movie! A bunch of employees are tasked with killing each other until one’s left standing. And you thought your team building activities were bad…
Did You Know?: The highest grossing horror movie of all time is IT, the 2017 remake based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.
Why Do We Love Halloween?
Our brains actually enjoy being scared, which is why Halloween is so much fun. When we are watching a scary movie or visiting a haunted house, we know that we’re safe and free from risk. This allows us to enjoy the experience and get a rush of adrenaline and release of endorphins and dopamine in the process.
People have always had a fascination with the macabre and demented. It’s why countries around the world celebrate their own version of Halloween – from Día De Los Muertos in Mexico to The Hungry Ghost Festival in China.
So if you’re at the right age, go out trick or treating and have a great time. If you’re not, curl up with a scary movie, be the cool house on the block that hands out king-sized candy bars, and have a happy Halloween!
Mental Floss. The Origins of 15 Spooky Halloween Traditions. Retrieved September 5, 2019, from mentalfloss.com/article/58341/origins-15-spooky-halloween-traditions
Buck, D. (2018, October 25). Doin’ The Mash: The History of the World’s Favorite Halloween Carol, Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “The Monster Mash.” Retrieved September 6, 2019, from https://tedium.co/2018/10/25/monster-mash-history/
Ferro, S. (2016, October 29). Watch the World’s First Horror Movie from 1896. Retrieved September 6, 2019, from mentalfloss.com/article/70525/watch-worlds-first-horror-movie-1896
Dwyer, C. (2018, October 19). 5 Reasons We Enjoy Being Scared. Retrieved September 6, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/thoughts-thinking/201810/5-reasons-we-enjoy-being-scared
Obias, R. (2019, September 3). 12 Halloween-Like Traditions from Around the World. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from mentalfloss.com/article/604894/12-halloween-traditions-around-world
History.com. (2019, August 27). Halloween 2019. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween
Skal, D. (2002). Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween. Bloomsbury: New York, NY.
Donvito, T. The Chilling History of 15 Halloween Traditions. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from https://www.rd.com/list/chilling-history-of-halloween-traditions/
CNN. (2018, November 5). Halloween Fast Facts. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/2013/06/13/us/halloween-fast-facts/index.html
Amadeo, K. (2018, November 26). Halloween Spending Statistics, Facts, and Trends. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from https://www.thebalance.com/halloween-spending-statistics-facts-and-trends-3305716
United States Department of Agriculture. Pumpkins: Background & Statistics. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from https://www.ers.usda.gov/newsroom/trending-topics/pumpkins-background-statistics/
United States Census Bureau. (2018, August 27). Halloween: October 31, 2018. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2018/halloween.html
Applebaum, C. (2018, October 4). The Scariest Haunted House in Every State. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from https://www.insider.com/scariest-haunted-houses-america-2017-10
Mejia, Z. (2018, October 27). 7 of the Scariest Haunted Houses in America to Visit for Halloween. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/26/hauntworld-scariest-haunted-houses-in-america-to-visit-for-halloween.html
History.com. (2018, August 21). Samhain. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/samhain
Time and Date. Is Halloween a Public Holiday? Retrieved September 10, 2019, from https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/halloween
History Channel. The Real Story of Halloween. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CaaCqyiR-gg
Heller, C. (2015, October 28). A Brief History of the Haunted House. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/history-haunted-house-180957008/
History.com. (2019, June 10). History of Ghost Stories. Retrieved September 10, 2019, from https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/historical-ghost-stories