Why Do We Celebrate Halloween? 6 Facts About This Spooky Holiday's History

When it comes to facts I know about Halloween, I'll admit that my knowledge is somewhat limited. I mean, why do we celebrate Halloween, even? I know we usually put on costumes, watch scary movies, and stuff our faces with bite-sized candy we received from strangers. But, as for the history behind this holiday and the traditions we follow? Well, up until now, I've had absolutely no idea. Instead, I'd pretty much just go with the flow, and stick with the standard traditions without any explanation.

Usually, I'm one of those people who enjoys knowing a bit of the history behind a popular holiday. But, honestly, I've always been a little nervous about digging into the backstory of Halloween. I just can't help but think it has roots in something super creepy — like hauntings, seances, and midnight romps through eerie cemeteries. And, as someone who's pretty easily spooked (seriously, I cover my eyes during horror movie previews), ignorance has been bliss up until this point.

But, as with anything, I do think it's important to know some of the historical context around the holiday. So, I decided it was finally time I do some digging to learn more about the history, as well as a few other interesting facts surrounding the Halloween holiday. And, as I suspected, some of it is pretty creepy. You'll never think of Halloween the same way again.

1. Halloween is more than 2,000 years old

The origins of Halloween have been traced back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which was celebrated on Nov. 1. The Celts lived in an area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, and they celebrated their new year on this day. It was a time for them to gather resources and bring their animals back from the pastures. And, some researchers believe that Samhain was also a time for communing with the dead.

2. Halloween placed a big emphasis on marriage

Alright, this is probably a fact that makes you go, "Huh?" But, in the late 1800s, women actually believed that they could ascertain the name and appearance of their future husband by performing different tricks with yarn, apple parings, hazelnuts, or mirrors. Some matchmaking cooks would even bury a ring in their batch of mashed potatoes, hoping to inspire true love in the diner who found it. Even the first person to win a game of apple bobbing was said to be the one to marry first. Luckily, those traditions ended.

3. Trick-or-treating is actually pretty creepy

The tradition of trick-or-treating dates back to the All Souls' Day parades in England, when poor citizens would beg for food. Families would give them a pastry called "soul cakes" in return for their promise to pray for the family's dead loved ones. Sort of creepy, right?

4. Dressing up in costume is a pretty freaky tradition too

Have you ever wondered where the whole costume thing came from? Turns out it's pretty spooky too. Hundreds of years ago, winter's approach caused some anxiety and uncertainty. The colder temperatures meant food supplies often ran low, and the short days and early darkness also added to the eeriness. Halloween was believed to be a time when ghosts came back to the earthly world, so people were afraid to leave their homes. So, they'd wear masks in order to avoid being recognized by the ghosts.

5. Halloween used to be all about pranks

In the late 1800s, pranks were an incredibly popular part of the Halloween holiday. Common pranks included egging houses, tipping over outhouses, and opening up farmers' gates. However, by the 1930s, the "trick" part of trick-or-treat started to get a little too out of control. So, parents and town leaders shifted the focus to just the candy and costumes. Smart move, guys.

6. We used to carve turnips instead of pumpkins

Everybody's familiar with the pumpkin carving tradition. But, it turns out the tradition actually started with carving turnips. People would hollow out turnips, carve a representation of the human face into them, and then put a candle inside. Catholic children would carry these lanterns when going door to door to beg for "soul cakes." And, sure enough, it didn't take long for Halloween pranksters to carve spooky faces into the turnip (rather than normal ones) in order to scare elders. Irish immigrants eventually brought the tradition to America, where more commonly available pumpkins were used.

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