Late October is a darkly magical time of year. It's no wonder that many people worldwide believed (or still believe) this season is a time when the spirits of the dead come back to walk the earth. And it's no surprise that so many of us, even the supposed adults, still get giddy about Halloween.
But every year around this time, social media becomes clogged with news articles and recycled memes warning parents against drugs snuck into Halloween candy or of the satanic origins of trick or treat. Sometimes parents don't know what to believe. So let's debunk five of the biggest Halloween myths out there.
1. Evil People Are Putting Razor Blades in Candy Apples
This is, by far, the most pervasive myth associated with Halloween. The fear that some local lunatic is slipping pins or razor blades into his homemade candy apples is so widespread that medical centers and police stations routinely offer free X-rays of Halloween treats.
But has a razor blade ever been found? Folklorist Rick Santino at Bowling Green State University has written extensively about Halloween and traces the razor blade scare back to a rash of supposed tamperings in New Jersey back in the late 1960s, leading to a 1968 New Jersey law requiring mandatory prison sentences for people caught sticking razor blades in apples.
Quoted on Snopes.com, Santino said that when journalists followed up on these cases a few years later, "virtually all of the reports were hoaxes concocted by the children or parents."
Joel Best, a criminal justice professor who has conducted the only substantial research into the tampering of Halloween candy, confirms that most news reports about needles and razor blades being found in Halloween candy involve no injuries, most likely because the objects were placed in the candy by the "victims" or their friends as a prank.
2. Fine, Not Razor Blades, But Drugs!
In the early 1980s, reports began to circulate of nefarious individuals handing out children's stickers on Halloween laced with LSD, the hallucinogenic drug. Despite zero media reports of kids actually receiving acid-soaked stickers, police departments and concerned parent groups continued issuing warnings about supposed "blue star" LSD stickers targeting kids.
In an eye-opening letter to The New York Times, a University of Utah folklore professor named Jan Harold Brunvand traced the confusion back to police alerts in 1980 about so-called "blotter acid," which are sheets of paper stamps dipped in LSD and sold as individual "hits." Since the sheets were sometimes inked with cartoon figures, the police warned that "Children may be susceptible to this type of stamp." From there, it morphed to stickers and quickly entered the territory of Halloween myth.
The latest version of the drugged candy myth are police bulletins and parent warnings about kids unknowingly eating Halloween candy infused with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. With recreational pot now legal in several states, there are a number of edible marijuana products that look exactly like conventional gummy bears, brownies or chocolate bars.
While there have been some cases of accidental ingestion of pot candy by children, including some kids in Arizona who grabbed gummies out of a bowl of Halloween candy at a friend's house and ended up feeling super-funny in math class, there aren't any reports of people deliberately handing out candy laced with THC for trick or treat.
3. People Adopt Black Cats to Sacrifice on Halloween
The rumor that Satanists and self-proclaimed witches line up at animal shelters every Halloween to adopt black cats is so pervasive that many shelters lock up their black cats (and black rabbits) in October.
Let's let the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) clear this one up. "While it is true that animals too often become the victims of holiday pranks and cruelty, there is no reason to believe that witches are involved, or that shelters are a source," writes Stephen Zawistowski, a former ASPCA senior executive. "Normal adoption counseling procedures should be able to screen out those applicants with bad intent. Continued publicity on this tends to make adoption counseling procedures look arbitrary and silly."
Apparently, this rumor got started in the 1980s when a woman took a black cat from a shelter as an accessory to a Halloween costume. A few days later, a black cat of the same description was found dead. But there has never been any hard evidence of ritual black cat sacrifices at Halloween.
Tragically, household animals are sometimes tortured and killed at the hands of humans, but according to Snopes the perpetrators are almost always bored kids and teens. And whenever an unfortunate mangled animal turns up during the month of October, whether it was killed by another animal or a human, it adds to the myth.
4. Halloween Is as American as Apple Pie
Nope, turns out Halloween is as Irish as ... shepherd's pie? As Santino explains in an article dispelling Halloween myths, Halloween traces its roots back to the Celtic celebration of Samhain (pronounced "sow-in"), a harvest festival and "new year's" celebration held on Nov. 1. Since the end of the harvest precipitated a season of winter "death," the Celts believed that their dead ancestors would return on Nov. 1 to feast with the living.
When Ireland was converted to Christianity, some traditions of Samhain were incorporated into All Hallow's Day (the night before, Oct. 31, is called All Hallow's Eve or Halloween). The Christianized family celebration included lighting bonfires for the dead and handing out wafers called "soul cakes" to the poor and hungry who approach your door. Santino says Irish immigrants brought Halloween traditions to the U.S. in the 19th century.
But don't let the soul cakes thing throw you. Trick or treating is very much an American invention. The tradition of kids wandering house to house asking for candy started in the 1930s and '40s, when American towns and cities were looking for ways to divert young people from more destructive Halloween pranks like egging and toilet-papering houses. Trick or treating really took hold after World War II during widespread suburbanization.
5. Or Else, Halloween Is Inherently Satanic
Blame Pat Robertson for this one. The televangelist and outspoken host of "The 700 Club" has made a career out of demonizing (literally) Halloween as "a night when the devil rejoices" and warning parents not to let their babies grow up to be "demon worshippers."
In 2015, Robertson explained on "The 700 Club" that Halloween was "the day when millions of children and adults will be dressing up as devils, witches, and goblins to celebrate Satan. They don't realize what they're doing."
Or they absolutely realize what they're doing, which is dressing up like princesses and pirates and trying to eat their weight in sweets.
Halloween-bashing has its roots in the early Catholic church, which tried to squelch pagan practices like Halloween by labeling them as satanic. But fundamentalist Christians like Robertson didn't really start attacking Halloween until the 1980s, possibly as a reaction to the increasing secularization of Christian holidays like Christmas.
According to the Church of Satan website, "Satanists are atheists... We do not believe in Satan as a being or person." While Halloween is one of the big three holidays on the satanic calendar, the website says, it "may be celebrated as a time when one's inner-self might be explored through the use of a costume, or one might recall those of importance in one's life who have died -- as was done on that night in European tradition."
Finally, historian Beth Allison Barr has argued that there is actually very little evidence for how Celtic holidays were celebrated, and it is likely that most ancient Halloween practices were rooted in Christian medieval culture rather than paganism.