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Halloween History: 13 Strange Facts On Why We Celebrate Halloween

It’s that time of year again — Halloween! But before you tear the wrappers off 87 “fun size” Milky Way bars, here are 13 things you didn’t know about the spooky season.

Samhain Bonfires 

1. Halloween celebrates the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve (followed by All Saints Day on November 1). But the Christian holiday is likely rooted in the Celtic holiday, Samhein, or a number of other pre-Christian harvest festivals.

carved turnips

2. In Great Britain, Jack-O-Lanterns are traditionally made from turnips. The Halloween custom came to American through Irish immigrants, and since turnips weren’t cheap state-side, Americans used pumpkins. Today, pumpkins are used worldwide, to the disappointment of turnip farmers everywhere.

 150 year old carved turnip

3. The Jack-O-Lantern tradition comes from another Celtic tale. Jack tricked the Devil into paying for his drink, so the Devil gave Jack a hellish ember. But crafty Jack placed the ember safely into a turnip, which he carved and carried with him so as to scare away any future hellish encounters.

 pumpkin carving record

4. Pumpkin carving in bulk is a popular Guinness World Record. The proud Halloween enthusiasts of Highwood, Illinois took the record in 2011 with 30,919 simultaneously lit Jack-O-Lanterns.

 all saints day prayer card

5. Trick or Treating has a short history. In 19th century Scotland and Ireland, there is some record of children travelling door-to-door praying for souls or performing for money or cakes on All Hallows Eve. However, the tradition is a short step from the medieval practice of souling, in which beggars went door to door on October 31 to pray for souls in return for food.

 old halloween ad

6. Sugar rationing in Europe and America from WWI and WWII kept kids off candy until the late 1940s. Radio programs at the time joked that children would have to explain to adults what trick or treating was, and many adult groups opposed the practice as it encouraged extortion and begging.

 peanuts halloween

7. A 1951 Peanuts comic strip can be credited with the popular spread of trick or treating as we know it nationwide. So dress up as Snoopy if you want to be historically accurate.

 wayne's candy company

8. Oh, and candy-makers are pretty happy about that. Halloween is a $6 billion industry.

 halloween cake

9. But with or without candy, everyone loves a Halloween party. Traditionally, a Halloween Cake was baked with a thimble inside. Whoever got the thimble in their slice was to be unfortunate in love for the next year.

 largest halloween party

10. These days, most major cities see the tourism benefits of major Halloween events. Salem, Massachusetts and New Orleans are the traditional hotspots for celebrating in the U.S. New Orleans holds the current world record for largest Halloween Party with 17,777 costumed revelers at once.

French paper shack

11. But what if you aren’t in America? Of course you can find parties all over the U.K., and the French have joined. The French village of Limoges attracted nearly 50,000 partiers last year. Several European countries celebrate a version of trick-or-treating on St. Martin's Day on November 11.

 candy skull

12. If you are lucky enough to be in Mexico on October 31 (or the early morning of November 1), enjoy Day of the Dead festivities. Kids still trick-or-treat, but are rewarded with candy skulls.

 not like anyone is eating apples

13. Lastly, be safe out there. Statistically, the biggest danger on Halloween is alcohol poisoning. There are no reported incidents of razors in candy or poisoning (except by parents).

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