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The History Behind Your Halloween Favorites

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The History Behind Your Halloween Favorites

Quick! What makes you think of Halloween? Is it Jack o’ Lanterns? Bats? Skeletons and skulls? Year after year, the list of October 31st icons is remarkably consistent - but have you ever wondered about their history?

Well, be prepared to dazzle your friends and coworkers the next couple of weeks: We’ve come up with some fun facts about your favorite Halloween characters. You may never look at your holiday decorations in quite the same way! Get ready to cover cute to creepy…

The Skinny on Skeletons & Skulls

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Skulls, skeletons, and bones - how did they become such a popular symbol of the Trick or Treat season? Well - the origins go way back, in this case. Imagery of the skull has long served as a reminder of death and the transitory quality of human life - and is consequently found in memento mori and vanitas compositions. 

Here’s our mosaic version of a memento mori from Pompeii:

Image Source Mozaico

“Remember you’ll die”, the Latin phrase reminds us, driving the point home with skeletal remains, the wheel of life, and other features in each composition.

Halloween, which touches on this theme, was just made for skulls and bones, which come to life on a night when the veil between the living and dead worlds grows very thin, indeed. 

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Pumpkins - Much Better than Turnips

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Back in 19th century Scotland and Ireland, it was a common practice to carve out a turnip (often with a scary face) and to use it as a lantern around Samhain - the end of the harvest season. When restless spirits were said to be roaming about, a lighted candle could help keep them away - and turnips were plentiful at that time of the year.

They could, quite honestly, look pretty terrifying, as this plaster cast of one such lantern shows.


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However, when the immigrants from these areas arrived in America, they found that local pumpkins were much easier to carve. They were also ripe at just the right time for making the smiling jack-o’-lanterns we know today. Their orange color has since become completely associated with the holiday. 

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What’s the Word on Witches?

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Pointy hats, brooms, and the Sanderson sisters are now a firmly set part of Halloween culture in the United States. However, the link between witches and the day go far, far back - to when Samhain was still celebrated in the Celtic lands. Bonfires burned, Druids celebrated their pagan beliefs,and the roots of witchcraft were firmly in place. 

Later, when Samhain was adapted into All Saint’s Eve by the Church, witches became part of the scary cast. Depicted as old hags with warts, they were believed to travel with the wayward spirits that were active that night. 

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Today, they’re a popular costume choice - but it wasn’t good to be named a witch, back then. Something to ponder, as you grab your broom in preparation for a fun night, out by the bonfire!

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Shedding the Light on Vampires

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A night where beings roam the earth, seeking victims? Sounds like a match made in heaven between these glamorous undead creatures and Halloween! Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel, published in 1897, kicked off the modern vampire look. 

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Popularized in movies, TV shows, and more, vampires are at peak visibility during the Samhain season. From sexy to goofy, these dramatic creatures are one of the top costumes for parties and trick-or-treating. 


Bring on the Bats and Owls

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Perhaps drawn to the early Celtic Samhain bonfires, bats have long been a part of Halloween folklore. Just like their flying friends the owls, they haunt the night, flying above the revelers. It’s nearly certain that they’re accompanying the witches on their brooms and the various floating spirits that circle the earth on this night.


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Bats obtained additional Halloween credibility when they were brought into the whole Vampire folklore. As we know today, they - along with owls - are an important part of the ecosystem. Controlling pests, eating insects, and swooping along in the darkness, they’re just doing their jobs!

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Whooo wouldn’t like to have a gorgeous owl like this around their barn - no matter what time of year?


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Beautiful Black Cats

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Black cats are one of the best parts of Halloween - hear us out! Somehow associated with witchcraft and lives as witch familiars, they’ve been added to the popular culture of the season. All black, blessed with tuxedo markings, or splashed with cream, they’re just an ordinary feline who will cut down on the amount of cat hair that shows up on your favorite dark-colored outfit.

Unfortunately, outdated superstitions have stuck around, and black cats have a harder time being adopted in shelters. Remember that the next time you’re looking for a new friend, and you’ll be a part of the coolest club in town: The Black Cat Club

Get Ready for Ghosts

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From congenial cartoon specters to the creepy manifestos of horror movies, our takes on ghosts are as varied as they are ancient. It comes from the idea that people have souls separate from their bodies, and thus live on after death, occasionally sticking around to haunt the living. You know - especially on Halloween Night! 

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Way back in Scotland and Ireland, it was common to head out that evening imitating the souls of the dead, and receiving offerings on their behalf. Impersonating these beings, or wearing a disguise, was also believed to protect oneself from them. (Seeing any similarities to trick-or-treating? You’re onto something!)

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Ghosts and Halloween just go together like warm candy corn and chocolate bars - they’re stuck together! Whether you’re throwing on a sheet and heading out to help your kids get candy, or working hard on your ethereal makeup, we hope that your Halloween is a spirited occasion!

Zombies Zoom Into Popularity

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Could we leave out everyone’s new favorite Undead? Of course not! Zombies take the idea of the dead wandering the earth to new levels. Forget floating around and leaving no trace. Today’s zombies are full of energy and relatively solid. They may leave a trail of body parts, but they’re here to stay.


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Fueled by the success of TV shows and classic horror movies, Zombies have launched fan events, Zombie parades, and a renewed interest in theatrical makeup. If your idea of celebrating runs more to the gore side than the snore side, you’re probably enjoying this new addition to the Halloween Hero Squad. 

We think the best way to celebrate the most creative holiday of the year is to treat yourself to a new piece of mosaic art! Check out some of our Designer Picks to get your search started!

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