Though it’s among Americans’ favorite holidays, few know the history behind the tricks and treats of Halloween. Here are a few facts you can toss out to impress the guests at your next costume party:
- Halloween evolved from the Celtic Samhain, a day when malevolent spirits were believed to walk the earth among the living more than 2,000 years ago. On the evening of October 31st, Celts would leave food and wine on their doorsteps to keep the spirits at bay, and don masks when leaving the house so they would be mistaken for fellow ghosts. Hundreds of years later, Samhain became known as All Hallows, celebrated on November 1st, while October 31st became All Hallows Eve, and eventually, Halloween.
- The practice of carving jack-o’-lanterns originated in Ireland and Scotland several centuries ago, based on the myth of “Stingy Jack,” an unsavory soul left to roam the earth with only the light of a burning piece of coal inside a carved-out turnip to guide him—hence his nickname, Jack O’ Lantern. To scare Stingy Jack and other evil spirits away, ancient folk began creating their own jack-o’-lanterns, carving scary faces into turnips, potatoes and beets. Europeans brought the tradition to America, but instead began carving pumpkins, a fruit found in abundance in the U.S.
- Trick-or-treating can be traced to the early celebrations of Samhain, when ghoulishly costumed villagers would perform various antics in exchange for food and drink in a custom known as mumming. The ritual is thought to precede the Scottish guising, in which costumed children would sing, recite a poem, or perform another “trick” in exchange for fruit, nuts or coins. By the early 20th century, Irish and Scottish immigrants brought guising to the U.S., where the tradition took on a more mischievous form. As Halloween celebrations became increasingly plagued by pranks and vandalism, families began offering small treats to neighborhood children to prevent having “tricks” played on them, transforming the ancient custom into today’s family-friendly “trick-or-treating.” iBi