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On All Hallow's Eve…
Halloween may seem like it's all about costumes and candy, but the holiday — which is relatively new to America, having only become popular in the early 1900s — has its roots in pagan beliefs. Dating back about 2,000 years, Halloween marked the Celtic New Year and was originally called Samhain, which translates to "summer's end" in Gaelic.
Some Halloween traditions, such as carving Jack-o'-lanterns, are based on Irish folklore and have been carried on throughout the centuries, while others, such as candy corn, are more modern Halloween additions. Read on to find out the meaning behind 13 spooky Halloween staples, including spiders, witches and trick-or-treating.
Black CatsSlide 2 of 27
Often used as symbols of bad luck, black cats grace many Halloween decorations. The black cat's bad reputation dates back to the Dark Ages, when witch hunts were commonplace. Elderly, solitary women were often accused of witchcraft, and their pet cats were said to be their "familiars," or demonic animals that had been given to them by the devil. [Read: Here Kitty, Kitty: 10 Facts for Cat Lovers]
Another medieval myth told that Satan turned himself into a cat when socializing with witches. But nowadays, black cats aren't synonymous with bad luck and mischief everywhere — in Ireland, Scotland and England, it's considered good luck for a black cat to cross your path.Slide 3 of 27
Jack-O'-LanternsSlide 4 of 27
A fun fall activity, carving Jack-o'-lanterns actually has its roots in a sinister, tragic fable. Celtic folklore tells the tale of a drunken farmer named Jack who tricked the devil, but his trickery resulted in him being turned away from both the gates of heaven and hell after he died. Having no choice but to wander around the darkness of purgatory, Jack made a lantern from a turnip and a burning lump of coal that the devil had tossed him from hell.
Jack, the story goes, used the lantern to guide his lost soul; as such, the Celts believed that placing Jack-o'-lanterns outside would help guide lost spirits home when they wander the streets on Halloween. Originally made using a hollowed-out turnip with a small candle inside, Jack-o'-lanterns' frightening carved faces also served to scare evil spirits away. When the Irish potato famine of 1846 forced Irish families to flee to North America, the tradition came with them. Since turnips were hard to come by in the states at the time, pumpkins were used as a substitute. [Image Gallery: Peculiar Pumpkins]Slide 5 of 27
BatsSlide 6 of 27
Medieval folklore also described bats as witches' familiars, and seeing a bat on Halloween was considered to be quite an ominous sign. One myth was that if a bat was spotted flying around one's house three times, it meant that someone in that house would soon die. Another myth was that if a bat flew into your house on Halloween, it was a sign that your house was haunted because ghosts had let the bat in.Slide 7 of 27
SpidersSlide 8 of 27