16 Halloween Myths & Facts

Nancy Barber | Sep 30, 2019 Food & Party
16 Halloween Myths & Facts
Image: Twenty20

16 Halloween Myths and Facts

Why do we dress up for Halloween? How did carved pumpkins become so important? And why does the last night in October matter so much, anyway? These are all questions we've never even thought to ask ourselves -- Halloween just feels like such an age-old tradition to us, we don't even think to question it! But this year, we've tackled the mysteries behind the holiday. The myths and facts that surround Halloween and the way in which we currently celebrate the holiday are rooted deeply in the past. We thought it was time to dig up some of that ancient history, so we all know exactly what we're celebrating on October 31. Of course, when we were kids, Halloween was all about the costumes -- way more so than any other aspect of the holiday. Unfortunately, given the era in which we grew up, those costumes are often really, really offensive, in retrospect. But the truth is, there are a million and one great costumes out there that don't appropriate other people's cultures. 

For anyone looking for a guide to keep the holiday happy and not inadvertently cause harm to anyone, consider checking out A Practical Guide For Not Dressing Your Kids In Horrifically Offensive Halloween Costumes. This guide can help all parents figure out how to navigate issues like cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes ... which can lead to some photos kids will regret later (and hurt feelings among classmates in the present). But while cultural appropriation is an unfortunate Halloween tradition we'd love to see more people avoiding, if there's one Halloween trend we can absolutely get behind, it's greater inclusivity. One excellent example of this is happening just this season -- take a look at Target selling Halloween costumes for kids in wheelchairs. We are so into these cool costumes, and the fact that Target has made an effort to make sure all kids can enjoy their trick-or-treating fun. For anyone who's more into a DIY approach than a store-bought one when it comes to Halloween costumes (we love both!), try some amazingly easy Halloween costumes that start with a bed sheet, which is ideal for anyone who's short on time or cash (but has a spare bedsheet they're able to destroy -- also often available cheaply at thrift stores).  

  • Myth: People Put Everything From Razor Blades to LSD in Halloween Candy


    Ever since the late 1970s, people have been terrified of their kids' Halloween candy, inspecting it for poison and razor blades. Children from the 1970s on learned to avoid taking homemade treats like popcorn balls and candy apples, even from neighbors they knew and loved. But was this really necessary?

  • Fact: This Largely Never Happened, With One Chilling Exception


    Sociologists Joel Best and Gerald T. Horiuchi wrote a researched academic paper on the subject, and it turns out that these incidents were almost entirely hoaxes. People made it up for the attention, kids put razor blades in their own candy to cause a scare, and one poor child who collapsed after trick-or-treating turned out to have a heart murmur. The exception: Ronald O'Bryan, who gave cyanide-filled Pixie sticks to five children in Texas one Halloween. However, these kids weren't strangers, they were his own 8-year-old son, Timothy, and his friends. So while going trick-or-treating has yet to be proved actually dangerous, having a murderer for a father, well, still is.

  • Myth: Halloween Is a Satanic Holiday

    Myth: Halloween Is A Satanic Holiday

    We know some people are concerned about the sacrilegious -- or even satanic -- associations with the holiday, but that's not really where the concept of Halloween stems from. The Church of Satan, in fact, says its members "embrace" the holiday but don't really feel a connection to it

  • Fact: Halloween's Origins Stem From Several Religions, Including Christianity

    Fact: Halloween's Origins Stem From Several Religions -- Including Christianity

    Halloween can be traced back to many religious traditions, including the Christian All Hallows' Eve and the Celtic celebration of Samhain, which was held for three days at the end of the harvest season, or Samhain, which means "summer's end." The festival would include large bonfires to cleanse the land and say farewell to the year's harvest while preparing for the cold winter months ahead.

  • Myth: Halloween Started as a Costume Contest

    Myth: Halloween Started As A Costume Contest

    Given our cultural love of Halloween costumes, from cute black cats to terrifying witches, Disney princesses to Superman costumes, it's easy to see where this rumor arose from -- but it's definitely a big myth. 

  • Fact: People Originally Started Wearing Costumes to Confuse the Spirits

    Fact: People Originally Started Dressing In Costumes To Confuse The Spirits

    In some cultures, it was believed that the veil between our world and the spirit world was at its thinnest during Halloween. Because of this, people feared the presence of evil visiting them. To hide themselves from the spirits and have protection from them, they would dress up in disguises. The thought was that an evil spirit couldn't find a person if he was disguised as an evil spirit himself. This has since morphed into a day to flaunt any and all costumes, but the origin was  about dressing up as a spirit, specifically, to gain some protection.

  • Myth: Halloween Is Only About the Scares

    Myth: Halloween Is Only About The Scares

    Given that Halloween is when scary movies are released and all the decor seems to feature skulls, skeletons, ghosts, and ghouls, the idea that Halloween is only about scary stuff is a totally understandable misunderstanding -- but it's not historically accurate. 

  • Fact: All Hallows' Eve Was a Time To Pray for Lost Souls

    Fact: All Hallow's Eve Was A Time To Pray For Lost Souls

    Halloween is also referred to as All Hallows' Eve. Christians historically spent this evening in prayer for lost and departed souls, and the next day, All Saints' Day, was spent giving praise to all the saints celebrated in the Christian faith.

  • Myth: Halloween Has Always Featured Pumpkins

    Myth: Halloween Has Always Featured Pumpkins

    When we think about Halloween, a few images spring to mind: a black cat with its back arched, a witch with a huge flying on a broomstick before a full moon in the sky, and carved jack-o'-lanterns dotting porches and stoops across the nation. But this wasn't always the case.  

  • Fact: There Were No Jack-o'-Lanterns Until the Story of Stingy Jack

    Fact: There Were No Jack-o-Lanterns Until The Story of Stingy Jack

    The story of Stingy Jack is where jack-o'-lanterns originated. The story goes that Jack tricked the devil and made a deal that he wouldn't claim Jack's soul when he died. However, God also rejected his soul when the time came. So, the devil turned Jack away at the gates of hell with a lump of coal to light his way. Jack placed it inside of a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since.

    This story came to the US with the Irish immigrants who first came here in the 1800s. Their version was impeded by the lack of turnips in the New World, but they benefited from the abundance of pumpkins. The people instead started to carve up pumpkins in place of turnips, and so they became the version we are more familiar with today.

    Unsurprisingly, children took this tradition and turned it into a prank. The story goes that they would wander through neighborhoods with their own versions of Jack's lantern and try to scare people into thinking they were really Jack. As they started to use pumpkins, the name changed to "jack-o'-lantern."

    By the late 1800s, the tradition had been adopted by high society. Socialites hosting parties for Halloween started using jack-o'-lanterns as decorations. That twist on an old tale has stood the test of time, and it is still how we use pumpkins in today's version of Halloween.

  • Myth: Trick-or-Treating Originated With Kids Wanting Candy

    Myth: Halloween Started With Kids Wanting Candy

    We could have sworn this one was true (and if our kids' gleaming eyes checking out their Halloween candy haul were any indication, it would be). But while gathering candy from unsuspecting adults is a time-honored tradition, it's not the real origin of the holiday. 

  • Fact: Originally, People Were Offering Prayers, Not Tricks

    Fact: Originally, People Were Offering Prayers—Not Tricks

    Trick-or-treating first started when beggars used to go door to door. They would say prayers for the dead in exchange for food. As time went on, this changed from prayers to performances. Poems and songs would be offered instead of prayers. Eventually, this tradition grew to include threats for food. By the time it crossed the seas to the US, the method of going door to door was now about tricks or treats.

    Children took to the streets on the night of Halloween in disguise, demanding sweets or threatening to pull a prank if they did not receive anything. Their idea to wear disguises, aka "guising," most likely stemmed from the desire to hide from evil spirits, but there's always the possibility that they didn't want to get caught being bad and playing tricks. It's a strange variation of beggars simply asking for food, but that is, of course, how many traditions change throughout the years. So, now, we just stick out our hands and say, "Trick or treat!"

  • Myth: Witches Adopt Black Cats Around Halloween To Torture Them

    Witches Adopt Black Cats Around Halloween To Torture Them

    The belief has been so widespread that many shelters keep their black cats (and black rabbits, sometimes) in a separate area until after the Halloween season has ended, to protect them. And while all shelter animals need lots of love and protection, this particular myth is more than a little overblown. 

  • Fact: Witches Are Really Kind To All Animals, Especially Cats 

    Witches Are Really Kind To All Animals—Especially Cats—And Black Shelter Cats Aren't In Danger

    The religion of Wicca is a peaceful one. It's nature-based, with a lot of respect for all the creatures of the Earth -- witches are definitely not ritualistically harming cats on Halloween or any other day. The ASPCA recognizes that while animals are frequently the subject of far too much cruelty and need our help and protection, adoption counseling systems are good at screening out people with bad intentions, and there isn't an uptick of black cat harm around this holidays.

  • Myth: 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' Is the Ultimate Halloween Story

    Myth: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Is the Ultimate Halloween Story

    The truth is, there are few places in the US worth visiting on Halloween more than Sleepy Hollow, New York. The whole town gets so into the spirit of the event, with parades, live music, haunted hayrides, haunted mansions ... it's pretty epic. But that doesn't mean Sleepy Hollow is actually a Halloween tale. 

  • Fact: 'The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow' Isn't Really Set During Halloween

    Fact: The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow Isn't Really Set During Halloween

    In John Irving's classic gothic story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is a short story first published as part of a collection in 1820. It's a great story and totally one worth sharing with the kids around this spooky holiday, but Halloween is never actually mentioned in the tale itself. 

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