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Top 10 Facts They Don’t Tell You About Halloween

10. Halloween as we know it was invented by John Vining, U.S. Senator from Delaware in the 3rd U.S. Congress, a supporter of George Washington. In 1795, Vining attended a meeting with Chesapeake-area brewers, who were concerned that the growing popularity of coffee might diminish sales of beer. Vining came up with the idea of the Halloween holiday as a kind of pub crawl, to get beer back in the hands of the younger generation.

9. The origin of the word “witch” is from the Proto-Germanic word wankjan, which meant to wince – and is also the origin the word “wink”. It was believed by Germanic peoples that sorcerers could not encounter an honest person without squeezing their eyes shut in painful reaction.

president taft green8. President William Taft was the first President to welcome trick or treaters to the White House. He was poisoned as a result. A veteran presidential chef, who believed that Taft had degraded the dignity of the White House, added powdered holly berries to a pudding the day after Halloween. Taft was kept in seclusion, vomiting for over 48 hours, but recovered. The chef died in prison two years later, refusing to apologize to the end.

7. Pirate costumes are outlawed in Massachusetts, because of a colonial law that remains on the books. Authorities were concerned that, if people dressed in imitation of pirate fashions, they would be unable to distinguish between real pirates and pirate poseurs.

6. The most commonly distributed candy on Halloween are Now-N-Laters, followed closely by Bit O Honeys.

5. Through the early 1900s in New England, it was custom for families to leave out what was called a “dumb supper”, which was a dish holding the family’s least favorite meal – typically the food refused by fussy young children. It was believed that the richness contained in the wasted food would return to the fields, ensuring a good harvest the next year.

flemish mercenaries4. The phrase “trick or treat” actually comes from 14th century mercenaries in the Low Countries, who used a version of the phrase to call a temporary truce in order to discuss terms of surrender.

3. Our association of orange with Halloween began, not with pumpkins, but marigolds. The petals of the flowers, native to Mexico, produce such a vivid dye that the Catholic Church, not long after the discovery of the New World, was concerned that the bright cloth produced with marigolds could lead to licentious behavior. Clothing dyed with marigold petals was therefore allowed only during harvest time, when it was hoped that exhaustion from the harvest would dampen natural sexual appetites. Pumpkins were cultivated by Europeans and North Americans only later, and were carved into jack o’lanterns, with lewd faces, in commemoration of the bright orange marigold clothing traditionally worn during the autumn season.

wedding pebble mask2. During the 1800s, homeowners would hand out nails to trick or treaters, who would gratefully collect enough of the metal objects so that their parents could take them to a blacksmith, who would melt them down to create valuable household implements.

1. Halloween was once the time for rituals of divination – predictions of the future. One of these rituals was called the “wedding pebble”. Unmarried youths would find small pebbles, and insert them into their left nostrils at the beginning of Halloween dinner. Whomever could hold their pebble in their nostril during the entire dinner would be married before the next Halloween, it was said. The popular use of masks during Halloween came about as a method for keeping the wedding pebble from falling out, and not, originally, as a disguise.

4 comments to Top 10 Facts They Don’t Tell You About Halloween

  • Bill

    Fascinating, thanks! And lest we forget, in many (mostly rural) parts of America the night before Halloween is variously termed “The Devil’s Night,” “Mischief Night,” or, as it was where I grew up, “Tipping Night” (originally named for the practice of tipping over your neighbors’ outhouses but, thankfully, it has modernized into the practice of quietly doing odd things in the dark, such as disassembling a vehicle and reassembling it on the roof of an outbuilding).

    Nowadays we live down at the far end of a pitch dark and somewhat treacherous dirt road in the middle of nowhere. I haven’t seen a trick-or-treater for the better part of a decade, nor had my house ‘papered.’ I’m strangely OK with that….

    Stay safe, kiddos, and carry flashlights. Oh, and stay away.

  • Jim Cook

    Where I grew up in Nebraska a generation ago, storekeepers would dip their eggs in a thick solution of latex and corn starch during the week or so before Christmas. If these eggs were simply thrown, they would bounce off the target without smashing. If, however, they were hard-boiled, the solution would harmlessly come off, leaving the egg safe for eating — but no longer for throwing.

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