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10 things you didn't know about Halloween in Canada

  • Oct 30, 2013
  • 634 words
  • 3 minutes
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Radio personality Reed MacWilliam dresses up for Halloween at FM96 offices in Ontario (1980-1990). (Photo: Library and Archives Canada)

There’s more to Halloween than candy and gloppy face paint. Here are the stories behind some of the traditions and myths.

1. Celtic harvest

An ancient Celtic festival planted the seed for what we now call Halloween. The Celts celebrated the end of the harvest and the start of the long winter with a festival, called Samhain. The festival was celebrated on Oct. 31, the day the Celts believed the boundary between the living and the dead was at its weakest.

2. Bobbing for apples

After the Romans took over Celtic land in AD 43 a few new traditions were tacked onto the Celtic celebration. One such celebration honoured the Roman goddess Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol for Pomona — an apple — is seen in present day Halloween celebrations in the tradition of bobbing for apples.

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A young boy takes a rest on the side of a car while wearing a Halloween mask in Toronto in 1957. (Photo: Michel Lambeth/Library and Archives Canada)

3. Meet Jack, the lantern

The tradition of pumpkin carving began in Ireland with the legend of Stingy Jack. As the fable goes, Jack made a habit of playing tricks on the devil. Once Jack died, God did not allow him into heaven, nor did the devil allow Jack into hell. Instead he was banished to live in eternal night. For his punishment, the devil gave Jack an ember to light his way. The legend claims Jack placed the ember in a hollowed out turnip, the predecessor for a carved pumpkin.

4. Carving pumpkins

The use of pumpkins as Jack-o’-lanterns didn’t begin until the 1800s. Upon their arrival to the United States, Irish immigrants discovered pumpkins were much easier to carve than turnips.

5. Candy

In October 2011, Canadians spent more than $350 million on candy products. This recent data goes to shows that candy spending on Halloween is second only to spending in December, where Canadians spend more than $450 million on Christmas confections.

6. Wicked wallets

According to a Scotiabank poll done this year, the average Canadian will spend $70 on Halloween — with 15 per cent of Canadians saving in advance for the event.

7. Trick-or-treating

Trick-or-treating originated around AD 1000. During this time Christianity had spread to most Celtic lands and had began taking over most pagan ceremonies. The church designated Nov. 2 as “All Souls Day” — a day dedicated to honouring the dead. On this day, the poor frequented the houses of the wealthy and received soul cakes. In exchange for the cakes, the poor would say a prayer for the homeowner’s deceased relatives.

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Photo: Wayne Ray and York University Archives


In Canada, trick-or-treaters visited homes on Halloween to ask for two things: candy and spare change. The candy was quickly disposed of, but the spare change went to supporting children in need around the world. The iconic UNICEF orange coin collection boxes were very much a part of Canada’s trick-or-treating history, until 2006 when UNICEF moved to an online donation system. On average, Canadians continue to donate $3 million every Halloween.

9. Old Wives’ Tales

In Scotland during the 1900s common folklore had it that if a woman ate a concoction made from walnuts, nutmeg and hazelnuts before falling asleep on Halloween night, she would dream of her future husband.

10. Spiders

Spiders are a common symbol on Halloween. But they may not be as evil as popular culture would have you think. Many myths explain that spotting a spider on Halloween is actually a loved one watching over you.


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