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Lore be gone: Five surprising things about Halloween

History » Author shares five surprising things about the ‘most misunderstood holiday’.

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Halloween is Catholic — sort of

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It’s based on the celebration of All Saints’ Day, although "the Catholics kind of changed it in the mid-20th century," Morton said. Originally, All Saints’ Day honored, yes, all the saints, known and unknown.

"It used to have what they called an octave, meaning that it was an eight-day-long celebration," Morton said. " And it had its own mass. It wasn’t until the 1950s that they kind of dialed that stuff back."

The religious angle to Halloween "is virtually unknown to most Americans."

"I think a lot of them don’t even realize where the names comes from — a shortened version of All Hallows Eve. Which meant the night before All Saints’ Day."

Halloween is not just for Americans anymore

While Halloween, complete with carved pumpkins and trick-or-treating, has been an American tradition for decades, it’s spreading around the world.

"It is exploding in popularity around the globe," Morton said. "Just in the last 10 years, it has taken off in lots of parts of Europe and Asia and even South Africa, it’s amazing how popular it’s becoming.

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"This is the first year I have seen a lot of interest in it in Australia."

The one exception, predictably, is France, where the celebration is seen as some sort of American cultural imperialism.

"They are the only country in Europe that has not embraced it," Morton said. "By 2004, their papers had declared it dead. They are very devoted to the celebration of All Saints Day in France — a kind of sober day where you go visit and decorate the graves of your loved ones who are gone.

"Lots of parts of Europe, they’ve separated the two. But not in France."

A Halloween merger is under way

"My No. 1 prediction for Halloween at this point is that we’re going to start seeing it merge more and more with Día de los Muertos — Day of the Dead," Morton said.

The two are not one and the same, although the Day of the Dead — like Samhain in Ireland — corresponds to All Saints Day on Nov. 1.

"I think of Dia de Los Muertos as Halloween without the Celtic influence," Morton said. "They actually kind of stem from the same idea, where you had an existing pagan celebration and then the Catholic Church comes in and tries to co-opt that celebration."

And if you doubt that the Day of the Dead is being incorporated into Halloween, just go do a little shopping.

"Here in Southern California, I am seeing tons of Halloween merchandise this year that incorporates Dia de los Muertos imagery," Morton said. "It’s so obvious with the bright, colorful skulls that often have the floral decorations, and I’m seeing that sitting right next to a jack-o-lantern."

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