Behind the name "Halloween", or the "Hallow E'en" as they call it in Ireland, means 'All Hallows Eve', or the night before the 'All Hallows', also called 'All Hallowmas', or 'All Saints', or 'All Souls' Day, observed on November 1.
One story says that on Nov. 1 the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. The Celts believed all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living.
Naturally, the still living did not want to be possessed. So on the night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes, to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily paraded around the neighborhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits looking for bodies to possess.
Another one of those interesting Halloween facts has to do with the custom of trick-or-treating. This custom is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called "souling". On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul cakes," made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by strangers, could expedite a soul's passage to heaven.
Another assumption: On the evening before Samhain (another name for Halloween), people left food on their doorsteps to keep hungry spirits from entering the house. Festivalgoers started dressing in ghost, witch, and goblin costumes so that wandering spirits would leave them alone. To this day, these are Halloween's most popular costumes.
The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree's trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree. According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.
The Irish used turnips as their "Jack's lanterns" originally. But when the immigrants came to America , they found that pumpkins were far more plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember.
Growing big pumpkins is a big-time and serious hobby. Top prize money for the biggest giant pumpkin is as much as $25,000 dollars at fall festivals. The current world record for giant pumpkins is 1446 pounds (that's a lot of pumpkin pies!).
More interesting Halloween facts have to do with witches. "Witch" comes from the Saxon word wicca which means 'wise one'. Witches were thought to be wise enough to tell the future.
Did you know that orange and black became Halloween colors because orange is associated with harvests and black is associated with death.
Halloween is the 8th largest card-sending occasion. There are over 28 million Halloween cards sent each year!
Some so-called vampire bats do drink blood, but they're not from Transylvania. They live in Central and South America and feed on cattle, horses, and birds.
Of all canned fruits and vegetables, pumpkin is the best source of vitamin A. Just a half-cup of the orange stuff has more than three times the recommended daily requirement.
With an estimated $1.93 billion in candy sales, Halloween is the sweetest holiday of the year (beating out Easter, Valentine's Day, and Christmas). In fact, one quarter of all the candy sold each year is purchased between September 15 and November 10. Now that's one of the sweetest Halloween facts around!
90% of the pumpkin is made up of water.
The world's fastest time to carve a face into a pumpkin is 54.72 seconds, by Stephen Clarke (USA), on October 23, 2001 (source: Guinness World Records)
Did you know: A traditional food eaten on Halloween is barnbrack, a kind of fruitcake that can be bought in stores or baked at home. A muslin-wrapped treat is baked inside the cake that, it is said, can foretell the eater's future. If a ring is found, it means that the person will soon be wed; a piece of straw means that a prosperous year is on its way.