Eleven Things You Might Not Know About Halloween

  1. Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Samhain was the Celtic lord of death. The festival in his name commemorated the end of summer. Not only did Samhain mark the time when the world was plunged into winter desolation, but Celts believed that on Samhain the barrier to the underworld dissolved, allowing the dead to return to earth.
  2. Roman traditions blended with Samhain. In late October the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead in a festival known as Feralia. They also honored Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees, whose symbol was the apple.
  3. The Catholic Church added its own touch to the festival that would become known as Halloween. To facilitate the spread of Christianity, the Church co-opted pagan festivals by establishing a different holidays to coincide. As part of this strategy, the Church designated November 1 as All Saints’ Day; the evening before became known as All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween.
  4. This background explains a number of Halloween traditions. For instance, costumes—Celts wore masks and costumes to make themselves unrecognizable to the ghosts who returned on Samhain.  Ghost costumes became very popular.
  5. Trick-or-treating also hearkens back to these ancient observances. To fend off the ghosts who had arisen from the underworld, Celts would leave bowls of food outside their homes. Also, to observe All Saints’ Day, people baked “soul cakes” and distributed them to “soulers” who went door to door saying prayers for the dead.
  6. The popularity of the apple on Halloween is thought to have its origins in the Roman festival honoring Pomona. Bobbing for apples became a popular pastime. Apples were routinely passed out to trick-or-treaters until some deranged folks started inserting razor blades into them. Candy apples were introduced comparatively recently. The invention of candy apples in 1908 is attributed to Newark, New Jersey confectioner William W. Kolb.  Caramel apples were invented in the 1950’s by a Kraft employee.
  7. The tradition of jack-o-lanterns stems from an Irish folktale about Stringy Jack, who outwitted the Devil, and then was doomed to forever walk the earth carrying a burning coal that he placed in a carved-out turnip. When thousands of Irish migrated to America at the time of the Irish potato famine, the more common pumpkin replaced the turnips used in Ireland.  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the heaviest pumpkin was grown in 2014 and weighed 2,323 pounds.
  8. One Halloween tradition of decidedly mixed popularity was introduced in America. While its actual inventor remains unknown, candy corn began being sold by the Wunderlee Candy Company  in the 1880’s. Goelitz Candy Company then popularized the treat. Goelitz is a predecessor of the Jelly Belly Candy Company. Bet there is a solid majority that favors jelly beans over kernels of edible wax.
  9. This year’s most popular costume is expected to be Harley Quinn, the comic supervillain and Joker sidekick.
  10. Reese’s Cups is expected to be this year’s most popular Halloween treat although candy corn remains a top choice in many areas.
  11. By volume, more candy is sold before Halloween than any other time of the year,  although the week before Easter is the most lucrative for confectioners.  That’s because consumers purchase more expensive candy for Easter but buy the cheap stuff at Halloween.
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