FACTBOX: The history and facts of Halloween

(Reuters Life!) - Halloween first came to the United States in the 1840s but the observance of Halloween dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.

Following are some facts about Halloween, celebrated on October 31:

* Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in an area now Ireland, celebrated their new year on November 1 when the world of the gods was believed to be made visible to mankind. Modern witches say it is a time of year when the “veil between the dead and the living is thin.”

* The word “Halloween” has its origins from the Catholic Church and is corrupted from All Hallows Eve. “All Hollows Day” or “All Saints Day” is a Catholic day of observance in honor of saints on November 1.

* In the 1st century AD, Samhain was assimilated into celebrations of some Roman traditions that took place in October, such as a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Pomona’s symbol is the apple which might explain the origin of bobbing for apples on Halloween.

* The custom of Halloween came to America in the 1840s with Irish immigrants fleeing a potato famine. At that time, the favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates.

* The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have Irish origins, possibly from a practice going door to door to collect money and cake or another custom begging for soul cakes or offerings for one’s dead relatives. Failure to supply a treat would result in a practical joke.

* The Jack-o’-lantern custom is believed to come from Irish folklore about a drunk, Jack, who tricked Satan into climbing a tree then carved an image of a cross in the trunk to trap the devil. He struck a deal for Satan to leave his soul alone when he died but then heaven would not take him either so he carried embers in a hollowed turnip as he wandered eternal darkness. The turnip was replaced with a pumpkin.

* Pumpkin-producing states in the United States produced one billion pounds in 2006 with Illinois leading the country by producing 492 million pounds of the vined orange gourd. Pumpkin patches in California, Ohio and Pennsylvania also provided at least 100 million pounds. The value of all pumpkins produced by major pumpkin-producing states was $101 million.

* In the United States, the first official citywide Halloween celebration occurred in Anoka, Minnesota, in 1921.

* The National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend about $5.07 billion Halloween this year, with the average person spending $64.82 compared to $59.06 a year ago.

Sources: U.S. Wiccan group Circle Sanctuary, Encyclopedia Britannica, Reuters,,, Census Bureau, National Retail Federation.