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A montage of Halloween themed images including a turnip, pumpkin and a child trick or treating

20 frightening facts about Halloween


Halloween is not everyone’s favourite time of year, but it seems to be getting increasingly popular. This traditional celebration of all things spooky and ghostly has a rich and amazing history.

Read on to explore our top 20 fascinating facts about the spookiest time of the year.

1. Halloween is rooted in ancient Celtic history

Halloween is older than Christianity and its roots lead back to the pre-Christian Celtic or Pagan celebration of Samhain. Samhain translates as ‘Summer’s End’ and took place around 1st November. The Celts believed the veil between the living and dead was thinnest at this time of year. They tried to ward off ghosts and evil spirits with bonfires, costumes and masks to trick the spirits into moving on.

2. Trick-or-treating has a medieval past

The tradition of turning up on your neighbour’s doorstep and asking for treats is far from a new tradition. In medieval times, the same activity, known as ‘guising’, took place in Scotland and Ireland. Guising saw youngsters going door-to-door asking for money and food in exchange for songs, rhymes or ‘tricks’ they could perform.

3. Halloween has an unexpected romantic backstory

While Halloween is seemingly all about ghosts and ghouls, there’s also an amorous element. Some Halloween rituals saw women looking for clues about their future husbands. In the 18th century, women threw apple peels over their shoulders, hoping to see the initials of their future love.

4. Irish folklore lies behind the character of Jack O’Lantern

Jack O’Lantern is someone we closely associate with the traditional carved pumpkins of Halloween. However, his story dates back to ancient Irish myth and the character of Stingy Jack. He was said to be doomed to roam the earth at night due to a deal made with the devil. To light his path, he used to light coal and carry it in a carved-out turnip. When Irish settlers arrived in the USA, they realised the pumpkin offered a much better surface for carving.

5. Halloween masks have a sinister past

The rituals of the ancient Celts were more bloodthirsty than the costumes of modern-day Halloween. In traditional Samhain celebrations, the Celts’ masks were made from animal skins and other parts of dead animals. The masks were said to ward off evil spirits as they passed on at this spooky time of year.

6. America’s love for Halloween was driven by immigrants

The Irish settlers who fled to America after the potato famine in the 1840s were instrumental in popularising Halloween in their new home. They brought their traditional celebrations with them and they soon became a national hit.

7. 30th October is known as Mischief Night

You probably remember it from childhood, but 30th October has traditionally been enjoyed as Mischief Night or Goosey Night in different parts of the UK. While it’s not quite as popular as it once was, this occasion saw young pranksters taking to the streets with eggs, toilet paper and other unwanted nasties to shower their neighbours’ homes.

8. World War II saw Halloween treats rationed

Trick-or-treating took a back seat during World War II as sugar rationing meant sweet treats were hard to come by. Many confectioners recognised the value of Halloween and took their chance to advertise and stock up on Halloween-themed treats once the war and rationing were over.

9. Pennsylvania is home to the world’s fastest pumpkin carver

The elaborate carvings and artwork people create with a simple pumpkin are amazing to see. However, the fastest pumpkin carver on record is Steve Clarke from Pennsylvania. Steve carved a traditional Jack O’Lantern-style pumpkin carving in just 16.47 seconds.

10. Full moons at Halloween are very rare indeed

We associate full moons with the spookiest time of year, but this isn’t always the case. The moon is full approximately every 19 years on Halloween. The last full moon on 31st October was in 2020, so we’ve got a long wait until the next one.

11. Halloween coincides with the traditional Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead is a significant celebration in Mexico and other Latin American countries. It is celebrated between 31st October and 2nd November and is a chance for families to commemorate and mourn their dead. The celebration combines ancient Aztec rituals with Catholic adaptations. You will see traditional Aztec skulls alongside prayers and candles.

12. Black cats are intrinsically linked to Halloween

Black cats are considered the perfect companion to traditional witches and the medieval belief that witches could transform into black cats at will. The witch and black cat symbolise Halloween, and the belief is so strong that even poor black cats waiting for adoption from rescue centres struggle to find a home at Halloween.

13. NYC is home to the world’s biggest Halloween parade

America is the commercial home of all things Halloween, so it is no surprise that the New York Village Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village is the largest in the world. 50,000 people get involved, and millions attend. It began in 1973 as a simple puppet parade but has grown significantly since then.

14. Traditional bonfires contained bones

While bonfires are linked to Bonfire Night traditionally, they’re also common at Halloween, and their past is also a little spookier than you’d imagine. Original Celtic bonfires were more aptly named ‘bone fires’ as the Celts threw animal bones into the flames to ward off those evil spirits again.

Halloween costumes
Halloween costumes: Image:

15. The fear is real

While many people don’t enjoy the scary and the spooky, not many can say they have a genuine, recognised phobia of this time of the year. Some people can, however, and the official name for this fear is ‘Samhainophobia’. People suffering from Samhainophobia experience anxiety and terror about anything Halloween-related, and seeking professional therapy is the best next step!

16. Black and orange are seen around Halloween for symbolic reasons

When October arrives, it’s not unusual to see shops, town centres and many homes decked out in orange and black. The colours have strong Halloween connotations and their association with this time of the year is not accidental. Orange is commonly associated with the Harvest season and the harvest of autumn, and this combines with black to represent darkness and to hark back to the origins of Halloween and its links to the boundaries between life and death. The pumpkin is particularly symbolic of this, and many costumes feature black and orange designs.

17. Witches are more wise than wicked

The witch has become a symbol of Halloween too and while the image of the wicked witch who scares young children and casts evil curses is considered particularly seasonal, that’s not, historically, what witches were all about. The witch is taken from the Old English ‘wicce’ which translates as ‘wise woman.’ The wicce in Anglo Saxon villages were held in high esteem and would use their magic through pagan rites and ceremonies to summon good harvests. Wicce tended to be unmarried women and also widowed women who used their reputation for medicinal herbalism and healing abilities to earn a living.

It wasn’t until the 15th century that the image of witches flying became commonplace, although they were pictured flying on shovels, goats and wolves before the broomstick became the most popular choice. As Catholicism became the norm in England, so did a desire to rid society of those sticking to paganistic and traditional ways of life, and we saw many witches burned to death or drowned.

18. Keene, New Hampshire holds the record for most lit Jack O’Lanterns

Lighting up porches and doorways, Jack O’lanterns are an integral part of Halloween. We’ve explored the origins of the Jack O’Lantern but every year in towns and cities around the world, there are pumpkin festivals and competitions to see who can light up the most Jack O’Lanterns. The city of Keene in New Hampshire has taken this title several times and still holds the Guinness World Record for the most lit Jack O’Lanterns on display at any one time. They broke their own record 8 times in total and that winning number of lit lanterns stands at 30,581.

19. Sweets and candy at Halloween is a 20th century thing

For children, Halloween is all about collecting up as many sweets and goodies as possible, with almost every confectioner and sweet manufacturer bringing out special edition sweets and all kinds of tempting treats. This wasn’t always the way and prior to the 1950s, children knocking on doors would be presented with nuts, little toys or even coins instead. By the 1950s the brands behind our favourite sweets and chocolate cottoned on to the potential moneymaker each October and began marketing Halloween treats. Now Halloween simply isn’t complete without a bucketful of sweets and spooky-themed treats.

20. Spooky Hit “Monster Mash” was once banned by the BBC

Guaranteed to be on any Halloween playlist and played at Halloween parties up and down the country, Monster Mash, by American singer Bobby Pickett was once banned by the BBC. The BBC made the unusual decision to ban the 1962 hit song from airplay because they considered it “too morbid.” It was over a decade later in 1973 when the Halloween hit finally got the attention it deserved in the UK. 11 years after its release the song hit Number 3 in the UK charts and everyone was able to enjoy this Halloween classic.

For more articles about the history and traditions of Halloween, check our dedicated Halloween hub.