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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Halloween

halloween witch haunted house trick or treat pumpkin jack o'lantern
Miguel Villagran/Mark Wilson/Mario Tama/Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Shakespeare described the “witching hour” as a time “when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out, contagion to the world.” Author Washington Irving described Halloween night in his classic ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ as a setting full of “fearful shapes and shadows…amidst the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy night.” Kids all across the country describe it as the night when the entire world gives them all the candy they can eat until they either pass out or enter “diabetes range.”

The ghoulish fun of Oct. 31 is entrenched in the very essence of Americana from the super heroes and princesses that boys and girls dress as to go trick-or-treating to the horror movies that teenagers and adults watch while they stuff themselves with sweets. Of course, the strangest horrors of the holiday lie just out of sight waiting to spring themselves on you in ways you least expect.

1. Halloween isn’t derived from Satanism

devil cat

The Vatican’s newspaper issued a warning in 2009 that Halloween carried “an undercurrent of occultism and is absolutely anti-Christian.” If history could speak with a sassy tone and snap its fingers, it would say, “I don’t think so!”

Halloween comes from many ancient holidays, but it is derived most from the Catholic holiday of All Hallows Eve, a holy night of worship and fasting to honor the wandering spirits left on Earth that occurred before All Saints’ Day. The holy holiday mixed with Celtic traditions from Irish immigrants who brought the holiday with them when they emigrated to the U.S. became the holiday we all know and (presumably) love today.

2. The first Jack O’Lantern was made from a turnip

Children Enjoy Traditional Halloween Pumpkins
Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images

Pumpkins with faces are a familiar sight around October, but it wasn’t the first food decoration of choice. The tradition came from an old English and Irish folk tale about a blacksmith named Jack who couldn’t get into Heaven because he bragged about being the greatest blacksmith in the world and Hell wouldn’t take him. So as he left the gates of Hell doomed to wander the Earth in darkness, he grabbed a lump of burning coal and stuck it in a turnip he was eating to use as a makeshift lantern to light his way. Pumpkins didn’t become part of the tradition until the founding of the British colonies because pumpkins weren’t native to Great Britain or Ireland.

3. Apple bobbing was used as a form of divination

Apple Bobbing
Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Few things elicit more giggles on Halloween than watching grown people try to grab apples in water without using their hands. Its original purpose wasn’t always as amusing. Celtic folk lore considered apple bobbing as a way of predicting a person’s love life. The tradition involved a person fishing an apple out of a tub of water, peeling it in one long strand, wrapping it around their head and then throwing it over their shoulder. The shape of the fallen peel would form a letter indicating the initial of the person of their true love.

4. It’s the only holiday with a clinical phobia

old-timey costume
Huffington Post

Probably because this is terrifying.

Those who don’t like the thrill of having the life scared out of them probably don’t look forward to Halloween but the fear is so bad for some that they actually develop a fear of the holiday. This clinical condition is known as “Samhainophobia,” named after the Celtic festival Samhuin known as “summer’s end” that takes place on Nov. 1.

It’s a rare condition but it can create some serious emotional symptoms like any irrational fear. For instance, Frankie Spires of England would experience panic attacks and problems with breathing in certain Halloween-like settings such as the dungeon of a haunted attraction. Unfortunately, he worked as one of the scare actors in the attraction and the fear he suddenly developed became so bad that the management had to move him to a position outside of the attraction.

5. The poisoned trick-or-treat candy story isn’t totally an urban legend

Mountain Residents Return After Old Fire Evacuation fire candy trick or treat halloween
David McNew, Getty Images

Mickey Rourke hands out candy to the neighborhood children on Halloween. Unfortunately, he couldn’t put together a costume in time…

Every year at Halloween, it seems that the news is filled with all sorts of scary stories warning parents to check their kids’ candy haul for razor blades, needles and all sorts of hidden poisons. The threat may be a bit overblown but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a dollop of truth to it.

The most famous case dates back to the 1960s when a woman in Long Island, New York named Helen Pfeil mixed in some arsenic tablets with her Halloween candy. She gave them to three teenage girls while they were trick-or-treating and thankfully their parents spotted the poison candy before they ate it. Pfeil claimed the whole thing was a “joke” designed to scare the three teenage girls whom she thought were too old to be trick-or-treating, but the police didn’t get the joke. Pfeil’s twisted story prompted nationwide outrage year after year at Halloween, even though no children have been killed by candy they received from someone other than their parents.

6. 3 Musketeers bars originally came in three different flavors

three musketeers candy bars

The name of the fluffy nougat candy bar actually made sense when it was first sold since it offered more than just chocolatey goodness. The Mars Corporation introduced the candy bar back in 1932 and they called it “3 Musketeers” because it offered three different flavors at the time: Chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. They also offered the three different flavors in one bar like Neapolitan ice cream. Mental Floss Magazine started a petition to get the company to re-release the original version.

7. A California gang has been toilet papering houses for more than 30 years

Grave Fears For Christchurch Earthquake Missing toilet paper
Hannah Johnston, Getty Images

“TP-ing” neighborhood houses is almost as old as toilet paper itself and actually quite illegal, but one gang of rebellious youths have dedicated their lives, time and arrest records to perfecting this delinquent art.

A secret Los Angeles gang has been toilet papering homes all around L.A. since the end of the 1990s and recruiting young members every year to keep the group going. One of the former members plans to make a documentary about the group.

8. Halloween mask sales have predicted the last four presidential elections

They’re also good for over-the-top, surfing bank robber disguises

The presidential polls between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney may have been all over the place, but one consistent query of the electorate has provided a steady stream of right answers for the last few election cycles. Spirit Halloween, the nationwide Halloween store chain, said that every Halloween season before a presidential election sees huge sales of the candidates’ likeness in mask form. Chief executive officer and president Steven Silverstein said that their sales of the candidates’ masks have provided an accurate prediction of the presidential race leading up to Election Day dating back to the race between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in 1996. This time, Obama is leading Romney in the “mask poll” by a ratio of 69 percent to 31 percent.

9. Most of the accused “witches” in Salem weren’t executed for witchcraft

hocus pocus
Partaay, Tumblr

Was it for being annoying?

No. The dark days of the Salem witch trials may have been a dark spot on America’s history but they weren’t as dark as history might suggest. The Salem courts brought more than 200 people before its bench on unsubstantiated charges of witchcraft, but only 10 percent of them were actually convicted and executed for their “crimes.” The rest were acquitted.

10. Some states have a “haunted house” disclosure law for selling a house

Ghostly Visit haunted house
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Despite your belief in the existence of ghosts or even in the possibility of ghosts inhabiting a house, they can have a very real effect on the living’s pocketbook.

Homes that are reportedly haunted can reduce its worth by as much as 25 percent unless the seller is lucky enough to find a couple who actually want to live in such a home. In fact, the concern over homeowners secretly trying to sell someone a haunted house is so high that at least nine U.S. states have laws on the books that make it illegal for someone to sell a home without telling the buyer that they may have some invisible roommates when they settle into their new home.

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