Christmas aside, Hallowe’en has the most complicated history of Britain’s major festivals. It is a minefield of confidently asserted 'facts', which are either undone by documentary evidence or undermined by the lack of it. The earliest festival was the Celtic 'Samhain' (pronounced ‘sew-in’), which was designed to guard against supernatural forces. This became fused with the Christian feast of the dead, established in the ninth century, and most of our Halloween traditions relate back to its original sense as a passage from summer to winter, and between this world and the next.
The name 'Halloween' derives from the Christian feast of All Saints' Day – also known as All Hallows, celebrated on November 1st. At various times and in various places it's been known as Pooky Night, Punkie Night, Spunkie Night, Cake Night and Nutcrack Night.
‘Trick or Treating’ first appeared in the 1930s in America; the earliest reference to it is in a newspaper article in The Oregon Journal on the 1st November 1934, headed 'Halloween Pranks Keep Police on Hop'. According to the article, 'young goblins and ghosts, employing modern shakedown methods, successfully worked the "trick or treat" system in all parts of the city.' However, British grumbling about it as a new-fangled American aberration is misplaced: it derives from the old European custom of ‘Souling’, where young people would go from door to door asking for money or gifts (often sweet ‘soul cakes’) in return for offering prayers for the dead. In Scotland, the similar practice of 'guising' involved going from house to house with some sort of party piece or performance, rather than simply turning up and asking for sugar with menaces.
The first jack-o-lanterns were not made of pumpkins but of turnips. The Irish carved lanterns from turnips to welcome home spirits of their ancestors. When they emigrated to America in the 1840s they also imported Hallowe’en, and the pumpkin-lantern was born. The pumpkin capital of the world is Morton, Illinois; Nestlé has a pumpkin processing plant there where over 85% of the world’s pumpkin crop is canned each autumn.
There are over 50 different varieties of pumpkin, including the 'Spooktacular', 'Funny Face' and 'Munchkin'. Spalding in Lincolnshire claims to be the pumpkin capital of Britain, because it's the home of the country's biggest producer, David Bowman, who grows two million pumpkins a year.
In some parts of the UK, it is possible to catch a real life ghost train. Officially called 'parliamentary trains', these are unusual services which might run once a week, usually one way, and sometimes even in the middle of the night - empty, silent and apparently to no one's benefit.
They exist in rare cases when stubborn train operators run a drastically reduced service on a barely used line, because it's more trouble than it's worth to go through the expense, controversy and legal complication of just closing it down completely.
If you managed to catch one of these phantom services, you’d likely find yourself on a completely deserted train, headed one-way to somewhere inconvenient. Ghost train hunting is (unsurprisingly) a popular pastime for train enthusiasts.
It’s Spunky Night, it’s Spunky Night,
Gie’s a candle, Gie’s a light.
If ‘ee don’t, ‘ee’ll have a fright.
If every zombie bit one new person a day, the entire world could be zombified in just 34 days.
Last Halloween I ran out of candy and had to give the kids nicotine gum.
99% of pumpkins bought in the UK are not eaten.
Until 1823, people who had committed suicide could be buried with stakes through their hearts, to prevent their ghost from rising.