Halloween 2016: Pumpkins aren't vegetables and turnip carving was tradition – five things you didn't know

Celtic roots, root vegetables, phobias, finding love and real-life danger

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
Monday 31 October 2016 15:15
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As children, parents and partygoers alike get ready to dress up in their most gruesome and ghoulish outfits for Halloween night, here are five things you didn’t know about 31 October.

Samhainophobia is a fear of Halloween

For some, the scariness of Halloween is all too real and is known as Samhainophobia. People who suffer from this phobia have an unreasonable or irrational fear of Halloween itself. And it is not the only phobia related to the spooky and supernatural. People can also suffer from coimetrophobia, a fear of cemeteries; phasmaphobia, a fear of ghosts; and nyctophobia, a fear of night or darkness.

The roots of Halloween are Celtic

Halloween is derived from a Celtic festival called Samhain, which was celebrated on 1 November to mark the end of summer and the Celtic New Year and is believed to have pagan origins. In the Christian calendar however, this is known as All Saints Day (also known as All Hallows’ Day or Hallowmas), making the 31 October All Hallows’ Eve, which we call Halloween today. Dr Thomas McKean, a folklorist at the University of Aberdeen, told the Sunday Post that the Celtic festival of Samhain is very old and some aspects of it pre-date Christianity, though it still dealt with the same subject matter that trick or treaters do today.

“It was believed at that time of year the boundary between the living and the dead was thin and permeable. It was about remembering and commemorating the dead. It also confronted death with humour and ridicule, to help keep that ‘other world’ at bay,” he said.

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Traditional Jack O’lanterns are turnips and pumpkins are actually berries

Using pumpkins to fashion ghoulish Jack O’lanterns is a relatively new concept, according to charity English Heritage, and originally turnips, beets and potatoes were used instead. The practice is thought to originate from Irish folklore concerning a story of ‘Jack’ who tried to trick the devil and was forced to wander the Earth with nothing but a burning coal inside a carved out turnip to light his path as punishment. Jack O’lanterns are meant to frighten off Jack and any other wandering spirits. The tradition switched to using pumpkins during the 19th century when people during travel to the US, where the fruit are in bigger abundance than turnips and easier to carve.

And yes, pumpkins are fruit. They’re a type of berry, in fact. New World Encyclopedia states that in botany, berries are classified as “a fleshy or pulpy indehiscent fruit in which the entire ovary wall ripens into a relatively soft pericarp, the seeds are embedded in the common flesh of the ovary, and typically there is more than one seed”. The pumpkin belongs to a type of berry called pepoes, which “have a hard or leathery rind, numerous flattened seeds, and fleshy pulp”.

Halloween was also traditionally about finding true love

Bobbing for apples isn’t all about trying to get some fruit out of a barrel with nothing but your teeth for no reason. Girls who successfully pulled an apple out of the water were meant to find true love. The same went for snap apples, which followed the same principle but saw people trying to grab the fruit while it dangled by a piece of string from the ceiling instead. For couples who believed they had already found true love, the tradition of nut burning would determine if their relationship would last. Each love bird would toss a nut into an open fire to see how they would react. If the nuts sat smouldering or burning brightly in the flames it was a good sign, but if they cracked and popped it supposedly spelled disaster.

Child pedestrian deaths surge on Halloween

Figures show that there is a significant increase in the number of children pedestrians who are killed on Halloween. Research from Sperling’s BestPlaces states children in America have a greater chance of being fatally injured by a car on 31 October than on any other day of the year as children fill the streets in celebration. Studying figures over a 20 year period from 1990 to 2010 showed there is an average of 5.5 fatalities each year on Halloween, more than double the average of 2.6 fatalities on other days.

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