10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Halloween

Illustration for article titled 10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Halloween

Seeing as Halloween lands on a Monday this year, for many of us the most debaucherous festive parts of the holiday came and went this weekend. But Halloween is far from over. Tonight, an estimated 41-million trick-or-treaters will take to the streets en masse to demand candy from you, egg your house, and TP the trees in your front yard.


The point is, you're going to need something to keep yourself — and anyone you're handing out candy with — distracted, and sane. To that end, we've collected a list of ten things you probably didn't know about Halloween, that you can ruminate on or discuss to your heart's content. Who knows, you could even become "that weird house that doles out candy and Halloween trivia."

On second thought, perhaps it would be best if you kept some of these facts to yourself.

10. Halloween will give you diarrhea
Well, not Halloween per se. To be more specific, consuming too much candy that contains the sweeteners fructose and sorbitol can give you diarrhea. However, the tendency for children and adults to tuck into excessive amounts of sweets on All Hallows' Eve (the biggest candy-scarfing holiday of the year) has earned this particular variety of GI-trouble the nickname "Halloween diarrhea." In any case, if you're assembling a list of things to say to trick or treaters when you open your front door, "this is going to give you a wicked case of diarrhea!" is something you might want to leave out.

9. Halloween can cause heart failure
Alright, fine, so Halloween isn't directly responsible here, either; once again, the culprit is candy — black licorice, to be precise. Just six days ago, the FDA released a warning explaining that you can actually overdose on black licorice. According to the FDA, black licorice contains the sweetening compound glycyrrhizin, the over-consumption of which can cause potassium levels in the body to drop, leading to abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, swelling, lethargy, and congestive heart failure. So how much licorice is too much? The FDA says consuming just two ounces of black licorice a day for any longer than a couple of weeks could have serious health repercussions.

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8. It's easier than you might think to eat 2 ounces of candy a day
In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 The U.S. per capita consumption of candy was 24.7 pounds. This means that, on average, everyone in the U.S. eats about one ounce of candy every day.


Of course, this is just an average, and most of us don't eat a uniform amount of candy every day; on some days we really load up, like on the ones that bookend holidays like Halloween. And remember, 24.7 pounds is just an average; roughly half of the population is on the right hand side of that candy-consumption bell curve.

7. There is a family of genes named after Halloween
The Halloween genes are a set of genes found in Drosophila melanogaster (i.e., fruit flies) that play an important role in embryonic development. A fly embryo with a mutation in one of its Halloween genes (which include the spook, disembodied, shade, phantom, and shadow genes) will die before its exoskeleton has the chance to form.

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6. Halloween traditions actually bring out children's evil sides
When you're a kid, the three most important parts of Halloween are candy, costumes, and trick-or-treating. And it just so happens that combining the three is a perfect recipe for inciting criminal behavior in children.


Group settings and masks are two factors that can give rise to what psychologists and sociologists refer to as a state of "deindividuation," wherein people become less likely to evaluate their own behavior, and less apprehensive over the possibility that they'll be recognized or observed by others. In other words, if you stick enough people together in a group and give them all masks, the social norms that guide their behavior can... loosen up a little bit. Especially if misbehaving means getting something they want. Like candy.

This study, for example, found that children between the ages of 9 and 13 wearing Halloween masks were significantly more likely than unmasked children to take more candy than they were instructed to when they were left alone in a room with a supply of the sweet stuff.


The same behavior was observed in this study, which showed that children wearing costumes, when put in a group of other children with no clear authority figure, were significantly more likely to steal both candy and money when given the opportunity, than children who were either not anonymous (i.e. not in costume) or not in a group.

5. If every holiday had an opposing celebration, Halloween's would be Christmas
At least according to Russel Belk, who has a PhD in marketing and describes his research as the investigation of "the meanings of possessions, collecting, gift-giving, sharing, and materialism." In a paper examining the cultural evolution of Halloween as an "American consumption ritual," Belk makes a pretty compelling argument that Halloween is basically a mirror image of America's other favorite "consumption" holiday: Christmas. Belk writes:

In the contemporary American Christmas celebration adults wear costumes (of Santa Claus) and extort good behavior from children with threats that rewards of durable goods will be withheld. In contemporary Halloween celebrations, American children wear costumes (often of "evil" beings) and extort treats of nondurable goods from adults with threats of property destruction. In Christmas rituals the extended family meets for a day of feasting (on wholesome foods) with a traditionally religious focus. In Halloween rituals children leave home and family to join other children for an evening of pranks in order to obtain unwholesome sweets in a decidedly nonreligious atmosphere. In Christmas rituals gifts are exchanged within the family and each is personally and lovingly acknowledged. In Halloween rituals non-family members provide gifts to masked and anonymous children who pose a vague menace.

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4. The legend of "the Halloween Sadist" has likely cost the U.S. untold sums of money
We've all heard some version of a story about a sicko who plants razor blades and needles in the goodies that they hand out on Halloween. The legend is so widespread that it led many communities to establish candy-inspection programs, some even going so far as to conduct X-ray screens of Halloween candy; in 1988, researchers in Reno, NV (one city where X-ray screens were being performed) determined:

The well-intentioned program of X-raying Halloween candy is costly. The annual expense to the 3 local hospitals in the Reno/Sparks area was $1625.62. The price to X-ray each bag ranged from $2.01 to $5.23 (average $3.38). On the basis of our total regional population statistics, the nation could be spending as much as $0.8-$1.4 million to screen Halloween candy...Of the 394 X-rays taken in the 3 local hospitals, and the 669 taken in 18 outlying hospitals, no films were positive for hidden radio-opaque foreign bodies. Not only is X-raying Halloween candy costly and ineffective, it also creates several problems. Children taking their candy to the hospital on Halloween night risk involvement in traffic accidents.


The researchers conclude, like many people have since, that the legend of "the Halloween Sadist" is essentially a big fat myth.

3. ...Except when it isn't
Because there actually are confirmed cases of harmful objects showing up in kids' candy. In 1974, Ronald Clark O'Brien (aka "The Candyman") gave out cyanid-laced pixie sticks to his son and two other trick-or-treaters. Only O'Brien's son wound up eating the pixie sticks. In 2000, a man in Minnesota was arrested for planting needles in children's Snicker bars. And in 2008, lollipops purchased from a dollar store were found to contain blades and other fragments of metal.


2. Dead bodies actually do get mistaken for Halloween decorations
While we're on the topic of Halloween urban legends that are actually true, lets talk about real-life dead decorations. As it turns out, this actually happens pretty regularly (see here and here).

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1. A study about Halloween suggests that the term "spontaneous birth" is erroneous
A recent Yale University study concluded that expecting mothers may actively be avoiding giving birth on Halloween, suggesting that the term "spontaneous birth," which implies that childbirth is something outside the control of a pregnant woman, is "erroneous." The authors write:

On Valentine's Day, which conveys positive symbolism, there was a 3.6% increase in spontaneous births and a 12.1% increase in cesarean births. Whereas, on Halloween, which conveys negative symbolism, there was a 5.3% decrease in spontaneous births and a 16.9% decrease in cesarean births. These effects reached significance at p < .0001, after adjusting for year and day of the week. The sample was based on birth certificate information for all births in the United States within one week on either side of each holiday across 11 years. The Valentine's-Day window included 1,676,217 births and the Halloween window included 1,809,304 births [...]
This study raises the possibility that the assumption underlying the term "spontaneous births," namely, that they are outside the control of pregnant women, is erroneous. For it appears that pregnant women can expedite or delay spontaneous births, within a limited time frame, in response to cultural representations.


Image Credits
Top image via Zacarias Pereira da Mata/Shutterstock
Creepy kids via Matinee as Hell
Razor blade apple via Randy MacLean/Shutterstock
Kid with chocolate via Zurijeta/Shutterstock
Pregnant devil via



Regarding #2 - hasn't there been the also converse where first responders had a difficult time picking out the injured vs. the whole when after a car accident during a zombie crawl?