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Halloween Fact or Fiction

Halloween Fact or Fiction: Halloween was originally a Celtic holiday celebrated on October 31.

The ancient Celts celebrated the new year on November 1, the beginning of winter. Summer’s end (Samhain) was celebrated immediately before on October 31. Celtic priests, the Druids, established the night of October 31 as a gathering time for the spirits of death and evil. (Barth, 1972 p. 79)

Halloween Fact or Fiction: Trick-or-treating is a modern Halloween custom.

Silver Ravenwolf (2000) explains: “We find the original source of trick-or-treating in the Celtic practice of leaving special food as an offering to the dead, much like the Mexican ofrenda. The practice of going from house to house is not a new one at all . . . House-begging on
Halloween became the norm throughout the original Celtic territories. Some historical accounts say that only children practiced house-begging, but other references indicate that adults participated as well. It is from these house to house visits, involving laughter, song, and general revelry, that we have the birth of the American practice of trick-or-treating, the American Halloween parade, and costuming for both of these events.” (p. 42)

Halloween Fact or Fiction: Turnips and beets served as the original jack-o’-lanterns.

In Ireland and Scotland children would hollow out large turnips, carve faces on them and place candles inside to scare away evil spirits at
night. Once immigrants arrived in America, they found pumpkins more plentiful and used them instead.

Halloween Fact or Fiction: According to folklore, the jack-o’-lantern got his name from a man named Jack.

Rosemary Ellen Guilley (2001) recounts that “According to folklore, the jack-o’-lantern got its name from a ne’er-do-well man named Jack, who had a run-in with the Devil. Jack thwarted the Devil several times when claiming his soul, but the Devil had the last laugh. When Jack died, he could not get into heaven because of his mean ways in life. He went to the gates of hell, but the Devil wouldn’t let him in, either. Instead, the Devil tossed out a piece of coal to help Jack find his way in the dark. Jack put the coal in a turnip, and the lantern serves as his light in his eternal wanderings about the earth.” (p. 32)

Halloween Fact or Fiction: The “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” tradition began in Houston in 1967.

The “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” tradition began in Philadelphia in 1950 with a youth group who collected $17 in decorated milk cartons on Halloween to help children overseas. Since then, the program has raised more than $115 million and grown to encompass the entire United States. For more information on this year’s campaign, visit www.unicefusa.org/trickortreat.

Halloween Fact or Fiction: Valentine’s Day is the top candy holiday.

According to the National Confectioners Association and Chocolate Manufacturers Association, Halloween is the top candy holiday. Sales (in dollars) for 2001 for Halloween were 1 billion, 983 million. Other top candy holidays, in order, are Easter (1 billion, 856 million), the Winter Holidays (1 billion, 431 million), and Valentine’s Day (1 billion, 59 million).

Halloween Fact or Fiction: Chicago is home to the first Halloween community festival.

Independence, Kansas lays claim to this title with their Neewollah (Halloween spelled backwards) festival which premiered in 1918 and has been held at intervals since then. In 1920 Anoka, Minnesota began their Halloween festival and they’ve been holding it annually ever since. The Village Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village, NY is a relative new comer, premiering in 1973 and organized by mask maker and puppeteer Ralph Lee.

Halloween Fact or Fiction: Halloween was banned during World War II.

Karen Sue Hybertsen (1993, p. 152) explains: Halloween . . . survived and even flourished. Halloween on the homefront became ‘Conservation Day.’ Community-based Halloween parties were enlisted in the war effort. For example, one hundred and fifty pounds of salvaged paper was the price of admission at one Halloween party where revelers enjoyed traditional games. Advice for Halloween parties reminded the reader that wartime Halloween parties required easy and inexpensive decorations fashioned from available materials. Some of the large scale community celebrations turned Halloween parades into celebrations of their contributions to the war. Parades showcased Red Cross Units, Air Raid Wardens, and Auxiliary Police Units; all attired in Halloween costumes. The climax of the parade was often a War Bond Auction with prizes donated by local merchants and sold for war bond pledges.

The coordination of this new style of celebration was quickly standardized by the National Halloween Committee. Their purpose was to allow children to enjoy the holiday, to aid the war effort, and to entertain men and women. Traditional Halloween activities were created in wartime images. For example, traditional scavenger hunts were transformed into campaigns to collect needed scrap materials.

Compiled By Dr. Rochelle

Halloween fact or Fiction References:

Barth. E. (1972). Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Guilley, R. E. (2001). Halloween: A Night to Honor the Dead. Happy Halloween Magazine, 4 (1), 31-37).

Hybertsen, K. S. (1993). “The Return of Chaos”: The Uses and Interpretations of Halloween in the United States From the Victorian Era to the Present. (Doctoral dissertation, Drew University, 1993). University Microfilms No. 9331586.

Ravenwolf, S. 1999). Halloween: Customs, Recipes & Spells. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.

About Chris Molnar


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One comment

  1. Wow. this was cool. I really enjoy Halloween and I’m glad that you posted some good info on my fav holiday. 😀


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