1. Halloween stands for holy.
Or more specifically, holy evening. Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, has been celebrated for hundreds of years. However, the name Halloween originated in about 1745 and literally means "holy evening".
2. No one actually knows why we wear costumes.
There are several reasons--dating back to England in the Middle Ages--that people dressed up for festivals like Halloween. In the 1500's, beggars practiced something called "souling" on Hallowmas (November 1). This meant going door to door, sometimes wearing masks to hide their identity, and begging for food and treats.
It is also possible that today's costume custom comes from Celtic Christianity. When Christianity came to Ireland and Scotland, it was met with resistance by most of the people who already worshiped pagan Gods. During the fall solstice festival, it was not uncommon for pagan worshipers to dress up and welcome the dead back. Over time, this tradition may have blended with the Christian All Hallows Eve, creating a festive, costumed Halloween.
3. Jack-o'-lantern means night watchman.
A Jack of the lantern was originally a guard or night watchman who kept a lantern handy to chase off unsavory night characters.
Another legend says that Jack was a man who trapped the devil in a pumpkin, resulting in the demon's face showing through. After that, people used jack-o'-lanterns to ward off the evil dead who walk the earth on Halloween.
4. No pumpkin? No problem, carve a turnip!
That's right, in both Ireland and Scotland, it is traditional to carve a turnip instead of a pumpkin. Pumpkins are native to North America and were not used as Jack-o'-lanterns until immigrants realized that they were softer and easier to carve than turnips in about the mid 1800's.
5. Trick-or-Treating was originally called guising.
Children began guising in Northern Europe in the late 1800's. They would dress up and "guise" from house to house for coins, fruit, and cakes. The phrase "trick-or-treat" didn't come about until almost one hundred years later in the United States.
6. Halloween is a vegetarian holiday
Yep, many western Christian denominations used to encourage vegetarianism on All Hallows Eve, which is why traditional Halloween dishes like caramel apples, potato cakes, caramel corn, candy, and fruit cakes are all meat-free.
7. Halloween is a fortune telling holiday.
When Halloween was still celebrated as a day of the dead rising, families would gather at home and cast fortunes (mainly about marriage and death) using dice, cards and other fortune telling tools. They would also bake rings into treats as they hoped to discover who they were meant to marry.
Want to learn more? Take an Anthropology course or a European History class from BYU Independent Study to brush up on your Halloween history. Check out our list of courses.