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Halloween’s Strange Origins — 5 More Things You Might Not Know

Children Enjoy Traditional Halloween Pumpkins
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

If you still haven’t had your fill of Halloween trivia, we have a few more fun and eyebrow-raising spooky holiday facts for you. October 31 is a day—and especially a night—full of spine-tingling surprises. With a bit of Halloween knowledge under your belt, you can impress your friends, as well as the ghost and ghouls wandering around your neighborhood, with your detailed knowledge of jack-o’-lanterns and creepy, All Hallows’ Eve history.

Turnips Instead of Pumpkins

For folks living in the British Isles, jack-o’-lanterns were a fairly well-known commodity, but they weren’t carved out of pumpkins. Rather, they were made from turnips. While that may not sound like Halloween to today’s fans of the costumed celebrations (turnip pie will probably never replace pumpkin pie), turnips used to be the real deal. Immigrants to the New World began using pumpkins as a less expensive alternative, and ever since, these large orange squash have become a symbol of Halloween.

Converting Pagans

Even a cursory look into the history of Halloween will let you know that there are lots of pagan, pre-Christian elements to this holiday, which celebrates the return of the dead. All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day used to come on the first and second of November, respectively. The Christian Church wanted to bring pagans into the fold, so they moved these celebrations to the end of October, in order to take away some of the spotlight of pagan holidays taking place at the same time. It seems the various traditions, in many ways, have now melded into one.

Harry Houdini Halloween Death

Harry Houdini, the Hungarian-born escape artist and illusionist, defied and “escaped” death many times. Ironically, his ultimate demise came on Halloween night in 1926. A student hammered him in the stomach one night in late October, before he was able to brace himself to properly withstand the blows. A fever took hold of him, as well a serious case of appendicitis. He continued to perform more shows, but a little more than a week later, on October 31, he died from his injuries.

Backwards Clothing May Give You ‘Witch Vision’

If you really want to see a witch, there might be a trick to help you with your search. Supposedly, if you wear your clothing backwards, or inside out, and can walk backwards at the same time, you just might catch sight of witch zooming by on Halloween night. If you don’t see a woman on a broomstick flying through the sky after a few minutes, you’d better give up, otherwise you might accidentally stomp on some poor trick-or-treaters (or fall down and hurt yourself).

Halloween Bonfires

Reaching way back into the past, when Halloween was known as Samhain, setting light to a bonfire was a kind of sun worship, preparation for the long, dark winter ahead. Animal bones were often thrown onto the huge blazes as a sacrifice. Thus, “bone” fires became “bon” fires. Embers from the fire were carried home in turnips (sound familiar?) after the huge blaze died out. Bonfire embers were signs of good fortune.

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