5 Things You Didn't Know About Halloween
In an age where greeting cards and retailers seem to be the experts on holidays, it's easy to wonder how or why those celebrated days of the year even started in the first place and why certain traditions are passed down year-after-year. Check out these five things you may not have known about Halloween.
Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which celebrated the last day on the Celtic calendar. Translated to "summer's end" in Gaelic, this day marked the end of summer and harvest and the beginning of the cold winter. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the ghosts of the dead would return to earth. To celebrate the event, the Druids, or Celtic priests, would build huge bonfires and members of the community would wear costumes of animal heads and skins. In 1000 A.D., the Catholic church designated November 2 as All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead. This was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes. The celebration was also called All-hallows, and the night before began to be called All-hallows Eve, and eventually, Halloween.
The American Halloween tradition of "trick-or-treating" likely dates back to the All Souls' Day parades in England. During the festivities, the less fortunate members of the community would beg for food and families would give them "soul cakes," a type of pastry made from bread dough and currants. In return for these cakes, the poor would promise to pray for the families' dead relatives. Later referred to as "going-a-souling," the practice was eventually taken up by children who would visit their neighborhood houses for food, drinks and money.
Superstitions & Symbolism
Being the mysterious and magical day that it is, Halloween has many superstitions tied to it, but where did they come from? Black cats are a frequent symbol of Halloween and are commonly seen as decorations. We avoid crossing the path of a black cat, especially on Halloween. This fear dates back to the Dark Ages, when people believed that witches turned in to black cats to disguise themselves. Another popular symbol of Halloween, the jack-o'-lantern, is believed to scare away evil spirits. They were originally made using a hollowed-out turnip with a small candle inside. If you spot a spider on Halloween, another superstition believes that the spirit of a deceased loved one is watching over you.
The traditional colors of orange and black go hand-in-hand with the Samhain harvest festival, with orange symbolizing the colors of the crops and turning leaves, and black marking the death of summer and the darkness of the upcoming winter season. More recently, purple, green and yellow have been introduced into the Halloween color schemes seen in stores and home decor catalogs.
Halloween ranks number two in terms of commercial success. It's no surprise the Christmas is number one, but the spooky and scary holiday we all love now rakes in over $8 billion in sales annually. According to the National Retail Federation, the average American will spend about $80 this year on candy, costumes and decorations. Halloween also marks the biggest candy holiday of the year, followed by Easter, Christmas and Valentine's Day. In 2011, $2.3 billion was spent on candy alone. The average child collects between 3,500 to 7,000 calories on Halloween. That's equal to 44 hours of walking or 15 hours of basketball those kids will have to do to work off all those treats!
Halloween is a magical time of year that's perfect for celebrating the changing of the season. You may not even realize it, but as you carve jack-o'-lanterns, take the kids door-to-door for treats, and dress up in costume to look like characters from Disney books and scary movies, you're embracing the Halloween celebrations of the past. There are many more interesting facts about Halloween available online and at the library. And be sure to check out our website for Halloween books, serveware, linens and frightfully fab decor ideas.