Debunking myths about the origin of Halloween is easy if you know the facts. The truth is, the roots of Halloween span thousands of years of European tradition; Americans are simply late to the party. Here are four Halloween myths that have become a part of pop culture.
Myth No. 1: The candy industry invented Halloween
If this myth reeks of conspiracy theory and paranoia, you are on the right track. The candy industry did not create Halloween, but they did take advantage of Halloween as a marketing opportunity in the mid-20th century.
In 1916, candy makers did have a terrible idea for a contrived holiday, but it was not Halloween, as you may have heard. "Candy Day" was their attempt, and it failed immediately. The tradition of giving out sweets to costumed trick-or-treaters was already in place. To say otherwise is like accusing dentists of inventing Halloween to rot the teeth of children to get more business.
Myth No. 2: Halloween is the devil's holiday
Halloween is not a holiday reserved for demonic worship, divination and witchcraft. You may not know that Halloween has roots in Catholic liturgical tradition, despite the objection of contemporary Christian fundamentalism.
Even at a cursory glance, it is easy to point to three different festivals of the supernatural that coincide with late October and early November: All Saints' Day, Dia de los Muertos and Halloween.
It is also simple to trace the origin of the word "Halloween" that does not tilt toward diabolical influence. In English, "hallowed" simply means holy and revered (i.e., All Hallows' Day); likewise, "e'en" is an archaic contraction of evening or eve; so if you combine the two etymologies, you get Halloween.
Myth No. 3: Jack-o'-lanterns came from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving's 19th-century masterpiece, is not why candle-lit carved pumpkins became so popular in America. If you read the short story (preferably on a chilly, spooky and foggy night), notice that Jack-o'-lanterns only appear here and there; they are not the central theme of the story.
Some scholars claim that Irish immigrants popularized Jack-o'-lanterns. Here is a link to "The Legend of Stingy Jack" if you want to read the folktale. To summarize the story, drunken Stingy Jack tricks the devil into turning into a coin to pay Stingy Jack's bar tab, but of course, this deceit curses Stingy Jack's soul in the end.
Myth No. 4: Halloween is only for kids
The origin of Halloween is not exactly child-friendly, but today, millions of children observe Halloween as a night to dress up and get free candy. On Halloween, most kids wear costumes of their favorite super heroes, cartoons and movie characters.
Adults in America have a different take on Halloween. For those who join the festivities of the supernatural – or the macabre and frightful – Halloween is a day to indulge wanton alter egos, celebrity personalities and humor. Like Stingy Jack, you too may observe Halloween as a night of excess, masquerades and secret vice, which is decidedly different from trick-or-treating for chocolates and lollipops.
Despite popular misconception, Halloween is not the invention of candy companies, devil worshipers or Washington Irving. Today, it is as much a part of American culture as the Fourth of July, so have a safe and happy Halloween.