Yeah, that headline is kind of uncreative, but that’s because all our brain cells are currently being employed to try to think of an awesome costume to wear on the day — or rather, the night — itself.
Thinking you might be similarly occupied, and lack the time to look things up, we decided to do the research for you, as a public service. And also because, well, we wondered about these things. Halloween has always — or at least, within living memory — been a huge part of our culture, and it seems to get bigger every year.
So here are some answers to your Halloween questions. Or rather, what we assume to be your Halloween questions. And if we got anything wrong, blame Wikipedia:
What is it? How did this weirdness get started? Well, you might have inferred that it’s a day established to get ready for the start of the Christmas decorations season, which starts the next day. Close, but wrong. Actually, it’s the eve of All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, the Feast of All Saints, the Feast of All Hallows, the Solemnity of All Saints, and Hallowmas. That’s Nov. 1. So it has religious roots, but some Christians don’t celebrate it. Why? Well, there are a number of reasons, but one of them is that the festival also has some, well, pagan roots. Anyway, it’s complicated.
What’s with the costumes, and trick-or-treating? Well, the sources of these practices are many. Here’s one that may have involved some of your ancestors: “From at least the 16th century, the festival included mumming and guising in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Wales. This involved people going house-to-house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting verses or songs in exchange for food.” Overall, “The wearing of costumes at Halloween may come from the belief that supernatural beings, or the souls of the dead, roamed the earth at this time.” Because, you know, it being a day before All Hallows. And two days before All Soul’s Day. We told you it was complicated.
Why turn a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern? Well, people did it in the old country — often with such vegetables as the turnip — and after they came to America, they did it mainly with pumpkins. But mainly as a harvest-season kind of thing. Sometime in the 19th century, it became associated with Halloween. It was a natural fit, what with spirits and spooks and scary faces and the time of year. Also, Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” — which seems to the modern person to be chock-full of seasonal imagery — mentions a pumpkin, but not specifically a jack-o’-lantern. Or Halloween, for that matter.
Well, we’ve thrown a lot of stuff at you, and you still don’t know why so many people are dressing up as Taylor Swift this month. And you probably don’t know what you’re going to wear yet, either. Don’t worry. If you can’t come up with anything else, you can just cut some holes in a bedsheet, and tell everybody your name is “Casper.”
But if your Mom catches you doing that, we don’t know you…