Halloween: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Spooky Holiday

A spooky skeleton lady holding a pumpkin in a forest
A spooky skeleton lady holding a pumpkin in a forest

Image created and owned by author with MidJourney AI

A few years ago, I was driving to a business meeting with a French colleague when I asked her what she was going to dress up as for Halloween. She replied curtly, “We don’t celebrate pagan holidays in France.”

That’s when I realized two things:

  1. Growing up in Canada, I never thought of Halloween as having religious connotations.
  2. She’d probably make a good Grinch.

 

It also sparked a curiosity I had never been satisfied with until just now. As in, here’s an article full of all the weird facts, history, and reasons behind what Halloween is today!

Everything You Wanted to Know About Halloween All in One Spot

When is Halloween?

I’m not sure why so many people ask this, but Halloween 2022 is on Monday, October 31, 2022. If you’re lucky enough to be in a part of the world where people go trick-or-treating, those festivities usually start around 7 or 8 pm.

If you’re lucky enough to be in a part of the world where people throw rambunxious Halloween parties, those festivities usually start around 10 pm and last well into the afterlife.

Is Halloween a holiday?

This question depends on who you ask. There are no governments that currently classify Halloween as an official holiday, so I’m sorry folks, no spooky day off this year.

But don’t fret, it’s still one of the West’s favorite unofficial holidays to celebrate! In 2019, a consumer survey by National Retail Federation said over 172 million Americans were planning on participating in Halloween. Not bad at all.

What is the meaning of Halloween?

A lot of people probably have different feelings about just what Halloween means to them personally. Take me for example. It’s a time when my brain lights up with memories of a night when being weird is cool and rewarded with mountainous piles of forbidden candy that needs to be guarded from my sugar-hungry brothers.

Perhaps it sparks different feelings in you.

But the meaning of Halloween technically comes from another holiday called All Hallows’ day, also known as All Saint’s Day or Hallowmas. The name Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve, a celebration on the eve before All Hallows’ Day.

So, I guess if you try saying All Hallows’ Eve really, really fast — and possibly half drunk — then you end up with what we call Halloween today.

Where does Halloween come from?

This is where most people’s knowledge of Halloween starts to drop off. Most historians believe Halloween first started with the celebration of a holiday called Samhain (pronounced shahv-nah in Gaelic). The festival celebrated the end of the harvest season and the start of winter.

So, to answer the question, Halloween technically came from Ireland!

How did Halloween start?

Halloween’s origins started with the ancient Irish (Celtic) festival of Samhain, likely more than 2,000 years ago if not even more. Samhain was a Celtic harvest festival where people gathered to eat and celebrate between the sunsets of October 31 and November 1, marking the beginning of their new year.

In Irish mythology, Samhain was the time of year when doorways to the “Otherworld” opened up, with hordes of ghosts, souls, and other supernatural monsters flooding into our world.

In the United States, Halloween first started around 1840 with Irish immigrants who brought their traditions over from their homeland.

Why do people wear costumes on Halloween?

A spooky skeleton ghost with arms flailing and pumpkins below

Image created and owned by author with MidJourney AI

As part of the ancient festival of Samhain, it’s believed people impersonated the souls of the dead (the aos sí) and would go from house to house asking for food in exchange for a song, joke, or poetry of some form.

People would wear ghoulish costumes as a way of protecting themselves from the spirits roaming around them. Essentially, they thought they could blend in and the ghosts would leave them alone. Smart!

Where did the Jack-o-Lantern come from?

Everyone loves carving up a scary pumpkin, right? But why do we carve out and torture such innocent orange vegetables?

Well, the Jack-o’-Lanterns has a funny little story, depending on who you believe. What we do know for sure is as part of the Samhain, Irish folks would carve turnips instead of pumpkins.

Traditional Irish halloween Jack-o’-lantern made out of a turnip

Traditional Irish Halloween Jack-o’-lantern made out of a turnip, Photo by rannṗáirtí anaiṫnid, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Now that’s the stuff of nightmares.

As part of the spirits of the dead walking around all willy-nilly on Hallow’s Eve, people had to protect themselves. So, some people dressed up as the spirits to blend in, and others carved out turnips and other root vegetables, plopped a lump of burning coal inside, and placed the scary sculptures outside their houses to ward off evil spirits.

Another version hails from a ghostly phenomenon called will-o’-the-wisps. It’s a supernatural occurrence where strange lights tinker and float over peat bogs — if the tales are to be believed.

The other version of why Jack-o’-Lanterns exist is far cooler. It has to do with a feisty Irish character named Stingy Jack.

Who was Stingy Jack?

A digital rendering of a scary looking man in white makeup and an old cap

Image created and owned by author with MidJourney AI

The story goes there once was a town drunk named Jack who was known around the countryside as being a liar, cheater, and overall crappy person. After years of this malevolent behavior, Mr. Jack’s dire deeds attracted the attention of the devil himself, who wanted to see if all these evil rumors were actually true.

So one night when stumbling around drunk, Stingy Jack ran into the devil and realized his years of misdeeds were at an end. But knowing this, he had one last request: a simple pint of beer to send him off.

They roamed over to the pub, Stingy Jack drank his beer, and he told the devil he didn’t have any money for the tab. But, he had an idea. He suggested the devil turn himself into a coin, then turn back into his devilish form after the bartender looked away. Impressed by the fiendishness, the devil did as he was asked.

But instead of paying, Jack plopped him in his pocket beside a crucifix, preventing the devil from transmorphing back. In exchange for the devil’s freedom, he asked to be left alive to drink and lie for another 10 years.

The devil agreed.

10 years later, the devil came back, angry and vengeful. He found Stingy Jack once again drunk and stumbling around the countryside. This time around, Jack asked for a simple apple from a nearby tree to fill his hungry stomach. Once again obliging by climbing up the tree to fetch the apple, Jack quickly carved a cross into the base of the tree below.

Trapped again, the devil asked what he wanted. Jack told him he’d let him go as long as he never took him to hell. The devil obliged.

Years later, Stingy Jack died from his unhealthy lifestyle. His soul tried to enter heaven and was denied for obvious reasons. Desperate for a place to call home, he floated over to hell and asked the same. Of course, the devil gleefully refused his entry, condemning him to an eternity of walking the dark night in perpetuity.

But, as the devil is sometimes not such a terrible guy apparently, he gave Stingy Jack a lump of burning coal and a turnip lantern to hold it for lighting his way into the darkness, forever.

And thus the legend of Jack of the Lantern (contracted as Jack-o’-Lantern) was born.

What countries celebrate Halloween?

Many countries around the world celebrate Halloween in varying forms. From full-on trick-or-treating celebrations, to parties, or even religious rituals honoring passed away loved ones.

Halloween is at least somewhat celebrated in Canada, the United States, Ireland, England, Scotland, Dominican Republic, Mexico (with a semi-related holiday called Día de los Muertos), Japan, Philippines (with a semi-related holiday called Pangangaluluwâ), Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, and even Greece.

In many of these countries, the practice isn’t widespread or is more of a recent phenomenon celebrated by younger people. The rise of American media and global tourism has helped spread the tradition to some extent in other countries around the world.

Is the Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween movie?

Many people ask if the best movie in the history of humanity is a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie.

The simple answer is, yes, you’re damn right The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween movie.

And amazing.

What should I be for Halloween?

Anything you want to be! You could go with something more traditional like a witch or a werewolf, or spice things up and be a Spice Girl. Or, if you’re cool like me, you’ll wear a crazy costume that’s sure to get a bunch of laughs (or at least creep some people out with its scariness).

If you want more, here are 101 costume ideas for Halloween 2022.


J.J. Pryor

Head over here for more of my written shenanigans.

 

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