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Things you didn’t know about Halloween

Hallowed history and mysterious myths.

By Rich_Maloof Oct 29, 2012 7:16PM

“Hallow” is an antiquated term for a saint or a holy person, and the evening before All Hallows Day is All Hallows Evening — abbreviated years ago to Hallow Evening, then Hallowe’en, then Halloween.

But wait, you knew that. Here are a few lesser-known nuggets to drop in your bucket this sugar-coated holiday.

Photo: Ferguson & Katzman Photography/Halo Images/Getty ImagesRelated: Halloween costumes for babies and children

Jack and his lantern — We get the lantern part, but why jack-o’-lantern? Is he Irish? Well, yes — Halloween history crosses over with the Gaelic tradition of Samhain (pronounced SOW-in).  “Jack of the lantern” has parallel origins to “Will of the wisp,” with both Jack and Will being characters from folk tales whose spirits were doomed to haunt the marshes for their misdeeds. Jack’s lantern and Will’s wisp of sticks were lit to shed light and tempt travelers off safe path. But you know, if you’re walking through a marsh on Halloween, you kinda deserve what you get.

Tricks before treats — Halloween is ancient, but trick-or-treating is barely a hundred years old. Early in the 20th century, the mischief-making that had been part and parcel of Halloween was becoming a headache for homeowners. Police would post warnings against haunted little hooligans throwing corn and pepper, trashing people’s gates, and setting up trip wires. Some found that by playing host to potential pranksters — offering food and celebration — they were spared from the mischief. “Trick or treat” evolved as a sort of threat to extort candy from neighbors: Gimme a treat or you’re gonna get tricked.

Holey sheets —  In age-old storytelling traditions, ghosts — aka shades, shadows, specters, spirits, phantoms, wraiths — have been described as vaporous versions of human forms, often appearing to the living in their burial duds. So, why do we have bedsheet ghosts? In some traditions, both ancient and current, a dead body would be wrapped completely in a shroud — a sort of ghost/mummy crossover. Presumably, real ghosts would be able to see just fine without cutting out eye holes.

Related: Halloween costumes for couples

An apple a day – It’s never a good idea to eat candy or other treats from strangers that aren’t safely sealed, but the vast majority of reports about sharp objects like razor blades being embedded in apples or other edibles have turned out to be hoaxes. Over the decades there have been a few terrible instances of children being poisoned by Halloween treats, most infamously when 8-year-old Timothy O’Bryan of Houston, died on Halloween night of 1974. Timothy’s father had taken out a life insurance policy on him and, with a neighbor, gave the child Pixy Stix candy laced with cyanide. Ronald Clark O’Bryan received the death penalty. People, it turns out, are capable of far more frightening things than underworld spirits.

Photo: Ferguson & Katzman Photography/Halo Images/Getty Images

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39Comments
Oct 30, 2012 9:15PM
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Superstition and myth has always intrigued us and exploited our ignorance.   It began with the earliest cultures partaking in and believing in various stories.  Later it became mandatory and exploited for the gain of Christianity who confiscated these traditions for themselves.  Pervasive, sinister and condescending however genius it may be as a business tactic to sell their own brand of superstition and myth to the incorrigible and credulous. 

Personally I think I would have chosen random chaos over organized insanity, its way more exciting and spontaneous.  All in all it’s a great holiday.  Everyone dresses up pretending to be something else, including clergy and the all hollowed saint.

Oct 30, 2012 8:44PM
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It's the worst day of the year for me.....truly...last year it got me medicare...HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME....am not looking forward to tomorrow
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You know what's scaring me about Halloween??? Having to take a 3 year old (sock monkey)  and an 8 year old (vampire)  trick-or-treating ALONE because HE is going to a concert in Atlanta!!! Not fair :(

 

The kiddies will have a blast for sure. I'm so looking forward to when they are in bed, passed out after crashing from the sugar, and I'm completely alone sitting in front of the computer or tv. I loved Halloween as a kid, but today it gets a little overwhelming. But it does make me happy to see my kids having so much fun, even if it does wear me out!

Oct 30, 2012 7:45PM
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Just another bah humbug holiday! When commercialism creeps in its no fun anymore. Where are the apple bobbin contests and pin the tail on the donkey? Oh yeh it is election year, and there is one donkey that need a good tail pinnin' You all know who I mean. Vote if you want to pin the tail on that donkey.
Oct 30, 2012 7:38PM
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I have heard that the offering of treats was a way of thanking or rewarding those in costume who would come into the house in order to scare away the evil spirits of that night.
Oct 30, 2012 6:59PM
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Pretty good article. Your description of Jack-O-Lantern was pretty accurate, but the rest was a bit off (quite a bit). As to giving treats, if you check the calendar you'll find that Halloween is not just a melding of two holidays, Samhain, All Hallows Day, but a third and little known, called All Souls on November 2. It is the All Souls day where the tradition of treats probably came from. On this day church children would go from house to house praying for the souls of dead family members. In return they would get either money for the treasury or a treat. The Holy Sheets as it was referred to dates to the Festival of the Dead or Samhain. People would dress in animal skins or false faces in order to be able to walk among the dead and not be harmed. bobbing for apples also dates to a Roman holiday for the goddess Pamona on October 31, her symbols were nuts and apples. All these traditons got infused together over the centuries.
Oct 30, 2012 6:01PM
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Q: What do Hillbillies do on Halloween?

A: PumpKin

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