Dress her adorably now, because once your baby joins the ranks of elementary school trick-or-treaters, you may find yourself trading in flowered head bands for cat ears and spooky capes and fielding questions on the origins of Halloween. Luckily, to explain where some of our most beloved Halloween myths and traditions originated, you need look no further than ancient folklore. Most of the fun and frenzy of All Hallow’s Eve are steeped in supernatural lore.
Take Jack of the Lantern for instance. Not a pumpkin at all — according to Irish legend, Stingy Jack was a scoundrel who liked his drink and his pranks. Jack’s future took an unexpected turn one night when he trapped the devil himself. Although Jack eventually relented and turned the devil loose, he first extracted a promise of one-year’s freedom from retaliation. The devil agreed, thinking of the vengeance he would take the following year. When the time rolled around, Jack trapped the devil again. Sadly, for Jack, Lucifer took his revenge by sending him out into the wilds to roam the world with just a piece of glowing coal to guide him. Legend has it, Jack stored his coal in a hollowed-out turnip. Today, we celebrate Halloween by making our own jack-o’lanterns from bright, orange pumpkins.
The Bad Luck of Black Cats
It isn’t clear, really, when people first began fearing the threat of a black cat crossing their path. In ancient Egypt, cats were revered and elevated to an almost holy status. It seems to be sometime around the 13th Century that Pope Gregory IX first mentioned the possible association between black cats and the devil. Then again in the Colonies, when then Puritans began their witch-hunts, it was generally believed that witches could take the forms of black cats and move stealthily about, unnoticed. Unfortunately, many innocent felines met unhappy fates simply due to the color of their fur. Today, it’s only the most superstitious among us that believe it’s bad luck when a black cat crosses their path.
Hype of the Headless Horseman
The origins of Halloween myths are sometimes unclear. Such is the case of the headless horseman. Brought to life in the famous tale penned by Washington Irving in 1820, the legend actually existed long before “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was written. As early as the 6th Century in Ireland, people told tales of a headless man — a Dullahan — who arrived astride a horse and brought death with him.