From a Celtic festival celebrated 2,000 years ago, Halloween has evolved into a fixture of American culture that encompasses spooky folk traditionsfrom early Scottish and Irish immigrants to German, African, Haitian, English and Dutch beliefs and customs.
It is a holiday of magic and mystery, and one, through a peculiar blending of culture and custom, that is uniquely American, says Lesley Bannatyne, author of Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History.
Here are some facts about Oct. 31, our scariest night of the year:
- Ancient Celtic people hid themselves in ghoulish disguises on Oct. 31, so that any malicious spirits they encountered wouldnt recognize them as human.
- Trick-or-treating as we know it today became popular between 1920 and 1950.
- The top Halloween costumes last year were witches and vampires for adults, and princesses and Spider-Man for kids.
- Trick-or-treating for UNICEF began in 1950 in one Pennsylvania school and now is a national campaign that has raised nearly $160 million to provide clean water, food, medicine and other assistance for children worldwide.
- The jack-o-lantern evolved from a medieval Irish tradition of using carved-out, candlelit turnips as lanterns. The turnips were placed on gateposts to ward off evil spirits. Irish immigrants in America began using the more easily carved native pumpkin for their jack-o-lanterns.
- Although Halloween always has had spooky, otherworldly connections, Bannatyne says it wasnt until the 1978 movie Halloween that the holiday became associated with violence and horror. Considered a horror film classic, Halloween was filmed in 21 days on a budget of $320,000 and became the highest-grossing independent movie of its time.
- Americans spend some $5 billion to $7 billion a year on Halloween.