Witches and werewolves, goblins and ghosts! Each year when the nights turn
cold and the wind gets brisk, you may turn your mind toward the unseemly
macabre thanks to a fall celebration beloved by millions. That’s right, it’s
time for Halloween. If you’re a cynic then you may find this holiday another
example of over-commercialized culture, writing it off as a conspiracy by the
candy companies to make a few extra bucks. If you’re one of the true
believers, who has had your costume planned since the summer heat then such scoffing
falls on deaf ears. Either way, few know the true significance of this cultural
institution with its symbology meant to tease out the darker aspects of your
imagination and its traditions now steeped in lore along with mystery. Light your
Jack-o-Lanterns and put on your best disguise as you set out to uncover some
interesting truths behind this special time of the year.
15) Classic Colors
Halloween paraphernalia is often instantly recognizable. Besides the adoption of
many beloved classic horror-movie monsters, nearly everything designed for the
holiday is painted with a creepy palate centered on the unusual combination of
black and orange. Where did this originate? No one can say for sure but there
are a few different educated guesses that go far in deepening the meaning of All
Some attribute the colors as a nod to the Celtic celebration of Samhain that
occurs in October. A day of remembrance for the dead, the main symbols of Samhain were natural, undyed beeswax candles that gave off an orange glow
and crepe draped black coffins. Many think are a romanticizing of the original symbology. Orange is meant to stand for strength and endurance for the coming
winter as well as being one of the colors of the harvest. Black represents death
and darkness, associated with the coming of winter as well as remembering the
dead during this time of year.
Those that utilize Feng Shui maintain that the specific combination was also
chosen for its balance of energies. Orange represents life, bounty and
happiness, while black stands for death, mystery and protection.
The Triple Goddess Symbol of the Celts
Candles glowing orange against the dark night
One direction your mind probably doesn’t go when dwelling on Halloween would be
the unusual laws surrounding it but there are plenty. A weird law can be found
in Hollywood where from 12:00 a.m. on October 31 to noon on November 1, it is
illegal to use, possess or sell Silly String. While Silly String is nontoxic and
nonflammable, the party favorite can be a pain to clean off streets as well as
buildings. Complaints from city workers about the November mess and observations
by police about the number of fights as well as harassment incidents breaking out from
random reckless spraying led to the short yearly ban on the stuff.
Residents have taken the ban in stride since its inception in 2004.
Party-supply shop owners say on the whole, the ban hasn’t impacted sales of the
stuff, except for the hours it is illegal of course. Police have
reported that not only have the random sprayings stopped but no one has been
arrested for the crime. Roughly 500 cans are confiscated yearly but those could
easily belong to newcomers or visitors who may not have noticed the large,
garish red and white signs proclaiming a $1,000 fine to be levied against anyone
trying to coat Tinsel Town in sticky polymer streamers on Halloween night.
Meant to protect the public from spiritual swindlers and unqualified clergy,
this badly worded Alabama law states that it is illegal for
you to impersonate any type of religious leader or worker within state lines, including your mode
of dress. This means no parody priests or naughty nuns for you! The upside is
the law covers representatives of several different religions, so there’s no
poking fun at rabbis either with your costume. The law has been called
out several times for leaving out exceptions that protect actors and
costume-party goers alike, where the intention is to have a good time, not to
What’s disturbing about this law is it isn’t Alabama’s only mishap when it
comes to costumes. Another law on the books states that anyone, regardless of age
or circumstances, dressed as an animal control officer is to be treated as a
legitimate animal control officer. Clearly in Alabama, they believe clothes make
No Religious Costumes Permitted on Halloween in Alabama
12) Bulk Candy
In the U.S., more candy is sold on October 28th than on any other day of the
year and nearly all the best candy sales days are in October. Americans spend
around $2.5 million a year on candy for Halloween and over $7 million on the
entire holiday. Rather than candy makers influencing the public psyche to drum
up business, confectioners have actually had to alter their own practices to
meet consumer demands. Many have been expanding seasonal offerings that range
from Halloween-themed repackaging to limited-edition flavors only on sale during
the holiday season. M&Ms, for instance, offers a white chocolate candy-
corn-flavored candy this time of year.
Candy is definitely a luxury item but it tends to be a low cost extravagance
that many can afford to work into the household budget and when
times are tough, it isn’t just for kids. Many retailers report that as much
candy is purchased for adult Halloween parties as is procured for kiddie
trick-or-treaters. Holidays like Halloween give people an excuse to remember the
good times and indulge in some small way to ward off the stresses of the
11) National Candy
Of course, no Halloween candy haul is complete without some candy corn. Love it
or hate it, the treat is a staple of the fall holidays that appears mysteriously
in September to ride out the harvest season and make a sometimes unwelcome
addition to some American Thanksgiving Day dessert tables. It’s colorful, low
calorie and tooth achingly sweet, which may explain why 35 million pounds of it
are produced yearly.
Candy corn was first made in the 1880s by the Goelitz Confectionary Company
that is now known as the Jelly Belly Candy Company. The tri-color treat was
meant to resemble kernels of corn and became a beloved symbol of the agrarian
community for its sugary homage to the yearly autumn harvest.
Today, several gourmet varieties of candy corn are produced. These include
blue raspberry, s’mores, green apple and orange mango varieties. Gummy candy
corn is also available as well as more traditional offerings, such as: an autumn
mix of candy corn; chocolate indian corn and mallocreme pumpkins, which no
Halloween celebration should be without. If you really want to go all out by
squeezing in an extra treat right before the big night, there’s an
indie brand of soda offering a carbonated beverage in the flavor of candy corn.
10) Once in a Full
While there is always the monthly full moon in October, it rarely occurs on
Halloween. This is in sharp contrast to the traditional scene laid out for the
holiday with the dark night lit up by the eerie, pale lunar light. Often, the
lunacy of the full moon is heightened by depictions of goblins and devils
dancing beneath it with witches cutting a shadow across its face riding on their
brooms. Will you live to see the hair raising night this becomes a reality?
Maybe but you’re going to be here awhile.
There was a full moon on Halloween in 2002 and before that the last one was
in 1955. There was quite a dispute in the amateur astronomy world as to
whether or not this counted since for many time zones since the peak of fullness was
after midnight, technically November 1st and not Halloween at all. Part of what
makes full moons on this holiday such a rare occurrence is that the 31-day month
means any full moon appearing on the last day of the month would automatically
be a blue moon. By definition, blue moons are full moons occurring for the
second time in a month or the fourth full moon of the season. These are fairly
equivalent meanings but both mean trouble for timing one to roughly 29 days
ahead, setting you up for the spectacular lunar show you crave on Halloween.
Orange is traditional for this autumn squash but in actuality, pumpkins come in
a variety of colors. White, green, red, grey and deep blue are all common
shades. The average pumpkin of any color weighs around 15 to 30 pounds. Some
varieties easily grow as large as 200 to 400 pounds, though.
The pumpkin originally hails from Mexico and became domesticated into its
traditional form around 9,000 years ago. It is one of the oldest indigenous
vegetables in North America and is a nutrition powerhouse as well. Pumpkins are
rich in Vitamin A and potassium. Their seeds are packed with protein, iron and
selenium. When toasted they are a low calorie, tasty snack. Make sure and save
yours when your jack-o-lantern carving party rolls around. About 20 minutes in
the oven then a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar is all you need to wow your
guests with your culinary genius. You can spice them up with other flavors like
hot pepper, sea salt, ginger and garlic as well. Have some fun making this
savory or sweet treat.
8) Jack’s Lanterns
The very first jack-o-lanterns were carved from large turnips. The substitution
of pumpkins is an invention of the New World and becomes much rarer in places
like the British Isles where the more traditional vegetable is still in use. The
candle-lit skeleton grin known today comes from an old story, that came to be
associated with Halloween, of a greedy man named Jack who saw fit to trick the
Devil and spare himself an untimely demise. In the end, Death punished him well
for the deed and caused him to wander the Earth as a restless spirit. His
lonely lantern was a feared sign of impending ill fortune and a reminder not to
In some versions of the story, Jack loses his head and searches for it. He replaces
his head with a turnip in a
few other versions, which is why you feel so
compelled to carve a goofy or terrifying face into the soft flesh of your
harvested fruit today. This story is a tribute to the ultimate ghost story of being stuck
between worlds, something that used to be a very real fear to your ancestors as
the warm, inviting summer turned to a cruel, cold winter.
Now jack-o-lanterns are a staple of the holiday and you can often see them
adorning the yards of homes as well as businesses in the weeks leading up to the
holidays. Carvings range from the traditional toothy grin to elaborate
renderings that are works of art in their own right. Many different venues hold
carving contests and the results of these are often quite elaborate as well as a treat
7) Unlucky Kitties
White cats are considered unlucky in the U.K. but in North America, it’s those
sporting a black coat. Various reasons are given, including the idea of black
being a symbol of death. Black cats themselves have been said to be demons in
disguise or the familiars of witches. The superstition about being cursed with
bad luck if a black cat crosses your path actually comes from legends of
shape-shifting spirits and witches who could put a spell on victims just by
coming in contact with them, said to be intercepting or “crossing” their fate.
While you wouldn’t entertain such nonsense today, black cats still have a
lingering reputation that has attracted the wrong kind of attention to them.
While this may not be common practice, some satanic cults and would be witches
have advocated sacrificing black cats around significant holidays for use in
spells. Other individuals have found the impetus to torture the poor creatures
as part of a Halloween prank. Whether or not this kind of violence against black
cats is widespread or more urban legend at this point, many animal shelters
temporarily ban the adoption of black cats to spare them possible cruelty
because of the season.
White cats are unlucky in the U.K.
Black Cats are unlucky in America
6) Save the Candy
Most trick-or-treaters come home with a decent bucketful but he more ambitious out
there turn Halloween into a candy grabbing event that may leave you
with a cavity-inducing mountain of sweets. There’s no way your kids can eat this
all in one night so what do you do? How long is Halloween candy safe to eat?
It turns out that most candies are low in moisture and high in
sugar, conditions which prevent microbial growth. Many candies can last up to a
year and many dark chocolates will carry a shelf life of two years when stored
in a cool, dark place. Some ingredients in candy bars may start to go rancid
after several months, nuts in particular, if the candy is exposed to the air.
However, changes in taste and texture will occur that makes the candy unappetizing
before it actually becomes dangerous to eat. Go ahead and store up those
treats, it's better to portion them out over several months than to eat them all
at once anyways.
5) First in Line
Ritual begging on holidays dates back to the Middle Ages.
“Guising” or specifically dressing up on Halloween and other holidays for the
purpose of begging, is mentioned as early as the 19th century in Scotland but it
was probably around long before that. The first holidays guising is heavily
associated with are Christmas and Guy Fawkes’ Day. While a few mentions of
wearing masks and asking for sweets occur in North America in the late 19th and
early 20th century, the phrase “trick or treat” was first put into print in 1927
in Alberta, Canada.
Trick or treating then went on to become popular in the U.S. during the Great
Depression but was more violent than it is today. The threat of a trick for no
treats was less idle and more real when children and teenagers alike lashed out
with pranks as well as vandalism. Community efforts were made to start passing
out sweets to curb this. WWII halted the practice due to sugar rationing but
post-war Baby Boomers made it popular again as kids in the 1950s.
4) Ancient Origins
The origin of Halloween is most commonly attributed to the Irish version of the
Celtic celebration of Samhain, a harvest holiday marking the end of the “light”
half of the year that was the growing season and the beginning of winter or the “dark”
half of the year. Druids during this time would perform ceremonies that caused
you to reflect on the part of the year that had already passed, including those
who had died since the previous Samhain. Guising, the art of dressing in masks
and ritually begging, is often included in the traditions of Samhain but that
might have come later when the Celtic pagan holiday was infused with the Roman
Catholic holiday of All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. On this day, the children of
the poor would dress up to beg for cakes from townsfolk in exchange for prayers
made for those families’ dead.
Irish, Scottish and English settlers brought the holiday to the New World
with them, resulting in many harvest celebrations centered on corn popping,
taffy pulling as well as other fun activities. The more riotous forms of
celebration and more macabre aspects of the holiday arrived with later German
settlers celebrating Walpurgis Night, the German version of the Celtic festival
of Beltane. Walpurgis Night brought the tales of malevolent witches and evil
spirits roaming the countryside.
With a consistency somewhere between traditional bread and a dense, moist cake,
barmbrack bread was the first true Halloween treat. The bread hails from
Ireland and is named for its speckled appearance due to the raisins, currants,
cherries and other candied fruits that go into its making. Family recipes for barmbrack also include strong black tea and whiskey, which give this baked good
a very rich, heavy flavor that is balanced in sweetness.
Besides the fact it is good to eat, barmbrack also holds a fun element of
surprise as well. The bread has small objects baked into it, usually rings and
coins. This makes it into a fortune-telling game, if you find a coin in your barmbrack
then you will receive wealth before the next Halloween. If you find a
ring, you’ll receive a marriage proposal. While this tradition used to be
well-known, the fortune-telling aspect has lost traction over the past few
decades. Irish bakers report that some tourists who buy the bread while on
vacation often send the objects back, thinking their inclusion was a mistake.
2) Burned to the
One of the Samhain traditions that has been adopted beyond Halloween is the
bonfire. The bonfire is a symbol of spirit and celebration. It's a common
occurrence at many festivals, important games as well as other
special events that occur in the colder months. It originally was meant as a ward against the night, in
anticipation of the dawn. Druid priests who presided over the festival and the
fire would often threw bones into it from animals that had been culled as
offerings to the gods. This is where the named originated, as these fires were
then called “bone fires”. After a few centuries and a little shortening, you have
the modern name “bonfire” today. Hopefully, there are more weenies being
roasted than dry, old bones.
1) Which Witch
The term “witch” comes from an Old English word, “wicce” that means “wise
woman” and a derivation of the same word is where the belief system Wicca gets its
name today. Wise women originally were highly respected members of ancient
society, being priestesses and oracles among the pagans. Early Christians began
disallowing women service in higher religious capacities but among their
number, wise women were still respected as healers, midwives and herbwives.
Additionally, such women were centers of knowledge that kept folk wisdom, lore
and culture alive.
The continued public loyalty to these sometime eccentric older women became a
political threat to the combined power of church and state. Finally, schism in
the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformation movement that followed caught
these wise women in the crossfire. The height of the Western witch hunts and
witchcraft scare happened during this period. Many older women,
single mothers, and other marginalized individuals were subjugated to cruelty as
well as death at the hand of both magistrates along with the public at large.
Hatred and fear of witches was encouraged. This gave those with nature-based religions and folk methods of
healing the negative reputation they are slowly overcoming. This
separates them from the symbolic Hollywood and fairy-tale wicked witch stigmas,
where the witch is less a person and more a vile, magical monster who runs amok
on Halloween, slinging curses along with eating children.
Many "witches" practiced natural medicine
Many think of Halloween as a children’s holiday or yet another display of
plastic, mass-produced consumerism. Like many holidays, its associations
with modern retail barely scratch the surface of its cultural significance and
important origins. Holidays like Halloween are a deep part of our culture and
draw attention to aspects of the human psyche you might not otherwise reflect
on. Christmas is well known for being a positive version of this, encouraging
traits of generosity, peace, and love among humankind. That doesn’t mean that Halloween is in some way less, or even negative in its impact.
Remembering the dead as well as what goes bump in the night or hides under your
bed is a way to face your fears about mortality, monsters and the shadowy parts
of yourself. Halloween presents a chance to let go of normal convention and get
in touch with your inner strangeness through healthy outlets that let you stay
connected to the all important community around you.