You’ve got your costume picked out, candy buckets filled, and party all planned — all that’s left to do for the best Halloween ever is put your knowledge to the test. How much do you really know about Halloween? Turns out it’s not only about who gets the most chocolate or creates the scariest costume.
Over the centuries, the holiday has evolved from a way of begging for food to one of the most commercialized days of the entire year. Here are the Halloween facts you need to know:
The holiday goes back more than 2,000 years
According to History.com, Halloween all started as a pre-Christian Celtic festival called Samhain (which means “summer’s end”) held around the first of November. It celebrated the final day of the harvest and the crossing of spirits over into the other world. People in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Northern France would ward off ghosts by lighting sacrificial bonfires, and, you guessed it, wearing costumes.
Trick-or-treating has existed since medieval times
Back then, it was known as “guising” in Scotland and Ireland. Young people dressed up in costumes and asked for food or money in exchange for songs, poems, or other “tricks.” Today, the tradition has morphed into children to getting dressed up and asking for candy.
Some Halloween rituals used to involve finding a husband
During the 18th century, ladies would follow Halloween traditions that would “help” them find a romantic match. Women would: Throw apple peels over their shoulder hoping to see their future husband’s initials, competitively bob for apples at parties because the winner would be the first to get married, and stand in a dark room with a candle in front of a mirror to look for their future husband’s face. Thankfully, those traditions have died out.
Immigrants helped popularize the holiday in the U.S
When Irish people fled their country in the 1840s due to potato starvation, they brought with them their Halloween tradition. By the 1920s, vacation, mischief, had reached its all-time high. Some believe that community-based cheating or treatment became popular in the 1930s as a way to control excessive hoaxes.
Sugar rationing during World War II halted trick-or-treating
After the rationing ended, the tradition grew into what we’re familiar with today. Candy companies started launching advertising campaigns to capitalize on the ritual.
Now Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in the country
It comes after only Christmas. Consumers spent approximately $9 billion (!) on Halloween last year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). That’s A LOT of candy and costumes.
Americans spend about $86.79 on Halloween annual
That includes Halloween decorations, candy, costumes, and cards by the NRF definition. (If you’re curious how that compares to Christmas, Americans spent an average of $1,007 on winter holidays in 2018.)
The Irish also brought us jack-o’-lanterns
As the story goes, an Irish man named Stingy Jack tricked the devil and therefore was not allowed into heaven or hell — so he spent his days roaming the Earth, carrying a lantern, and went by “Jack of the Lantern.”
Carved out of turnips, potatoes, and beets
Jack-‘o-lanterns originated in Ireland, after all. Once Halloween became popular in America, people used pumpkins instead.
Traditional Halloween bread in Ireland
It’s called barmbrack or just “brack.” The sweet loaf typically contains dark and golden raisins plus a small toy or ring. Similar to king cake at Mardi Gras, tradition dictates the person who finds the item will receive good fortune.
Disney almost made ‘Hocus Pocus’
The original title Disney’s Halloween House also went along with a much darker and scarier script, according to IMDB. Another fun fact: Leonardo DiCaprio nearly played Max Dennison, but he turned it down to appear in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape instead.
Illinois has five times more pumpkins than others
The Land of Lincoln has more than 15,000 acres devoted to gourd growing, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Those Illinois farms typically grow more than 500 million pounds of pumpkins annually.
The Goelitz Confectionery Company sold boxes with a rooster on the front in order to appeal to America’s agricultural roots, according to National Geographic. The sugary recipe has gone largely unchanged since the 1880s.
‘Monster Mash’ once reigned supreme on the Billboard charts
Bobby “Boris” Pickett reached #1 on the Hot 100 in 1962 just before Halloween and later recharted in 1973 — but this time in August.
Pumpkin patch in Hawaii
Head to Waimanalo Country Farms in Oahu to pick pumpkins while you’re on the islands. Looking for squash in Florida? Try the Pickin’ Patch in Dunnellon. (It’s a watermelon farm the rest of the year!)
The Michael Myers mask in ‘Halloween’ has a fascinating backstory.
The famous horror movie villain has surprisingly innocent roots. When shooting the original 1978 film, production designer Tommy Lee Wallace picked up two masks from a Hollywood Boulevard magic shop: a clown and William Shatner as Captain Kirk in Star Trek.
“Tommy came in with the clown mask on, and we went, ‘Ooh, that’s kind of scary.’ Then he put on the Shatner mask, and we stopped dead and said, ‘It’s perfect,'” actor Nick Castle told the New York Times. They spray-painted it white, cut the eye holes bigger, and the rest is history.
16.47 seconds the fastest pumpkin carving
Stephen Clarke holds the honor. The jack-o’-lantern had to contain a complete face, including eyes, nose, mouth, and ears.
New York City throws the biggest Halloween parade in the U.S
It draws more than 2 million spectators and includes thousands participants, but it started out as a simple idea from Greenwich Village resident (and puppeteer!) Ralph Lee — a walk from house to house for his children and their friends. When the local theatre got wind of it, they turned it into a bigger event — and it’s gotten bigger (and more theatrical) every year since.
Princesses and Superheroes are the most popular children’s costumes
Adults are most likely to dress as witches, according to the National Retail Federation. As for our pets? The most popular costume for dogs in 2018 was a pumpkin.
Skittles are the top Halloween candy
The bite-sized candies outranked M&M’s, Snickers, and Reese’s Cups, according to 11 years of sales data from CandyStore. And even though candy corn also made the top 10, the tricolored treats also ranked among the worst Halloween candies.
A city in Canada banned teens over 16 from trick-or-treating
According to CBC, anyone over the age of 16 caught trick-or-treating — or even just wearing masks — in Bathurst, Canada, faces up to a $200 fine. The city also has a curfew for everyone else, so even those under 16 aren’t allowed out after 8 p.m. on Halloween.
Harry Houdini died on Halloween in 1926
The famous magician, illusionist, and entertainer died from peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix, but multiple contradicting reports caused quite the mystery around his death.
Suspend black cat adoptions for Halloween
They feared that the animals were in danger of satanic cults in the days leading up to Halloween. Nowadays, some shelters promote black cat adoptions in October and use interviews to weed out anyone with the wrong intentions.
Keene, New Hampshire, holds the record for the most jack-o’-lanterns on display
In October 2013, the city broke the record with 30,581 lit pumpkins around town. Pretty impressive, right?
The night before Halloween is called Mischief Night or Goosey Night in some places
October 30 is a night popular for pulling pranks — some harmless like throwing toilet paper in trees, but others much more dangerous. It really only happens places on East Coast and in the Midwest, as the traditions never really made their way to the West Coast.
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