Black cats, ghouls and goblins, sugary treats — just about everyone's familiar with the traditional trappings of Halloween.

But how did an ancient pagan ritual grow into the most beloved kids' night of the year? Read on for details about October 31, from its humble beginnings to its big-bucks present.

Halloween history
.Many experts believe the druids were the first to observe Halloween. Dating back to 700 B.C., they celebrated the festival of Samhain (the end of the harvest and a time to honor the dead) on November 1. In the ensuing years, the night before became known as the Eve of All Hallows, a.k.a. Hallow Even, a.k.a. Hallow e'en.

.Ever wonder how trick-or-treating got started? The story goes that on the evening before Samhain, people left food on their doorsteps to keep hungry spirits from entering the house. Festivalgoers started dressing in ghost, witch, and goblin costumes so wandering spirits would leave them alone. To this day, these are Halloween's most popular costumes.

.The word witch comes from the Saxon word wicca, which means "wise one."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the first official citywide Halloween celebration in the United States happened in Anoka, Minnesota, in 1921.

Amazing animals
.Black cats, those customary Halloween icons, were originally believed to be witches' familiars, a kind of cosmic sidekick who protected the witches' powers from negative forces.

.Some so-called vampire bats do drink blood, but they're not from Transylvania. They live in Central and South America and feed on cattle, horses, and birds.

U.S. place names with a Halloween theme
Candy Town, Ohio
Cape Fear, North Carolina
Frankenstein, Missouri
Pumpkin Bend, Arkansas
Pumpkin Hollow, New York
Scary, West Virginia
Skull Creek, Nebraska
Spook City, Colorado
Tombstone, Arizona
Transylvania County, North Carolina
Witch Hazel, Oregon

Food facts
.The biggest pumpkin in the world tipped the scales at a whopping 1,810.5 pounds in Minnesota's Stillwater Harvest festival in October 2010. This beats the last giant pumpkin record of 1,725 pounds, weighed in October 2009 in the annual Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers weigh-off in Canton, Ohio.

.The biggest pumpkin pie on record was baked by the New Breman Giant Pumpkin Growers in Ohio in 2005. After baking for five hours in a special oven, it weighed 2,020 pounds and measured 12 feet, 4 inches wide and 4 inches deep. Ingredients included 900 pounds of pumpkin, 155 dozen eggs, 62 gallons of evaporated milk, 300 pounds of sugar, 3.5 pounds of salt, 7 pounds of cinnamon, and 2 pounds of pumpkin pie spice.

.Of all canned fruits and vegetables, pumpkin is the best source of vitamin A. Just a half-cup of the orange stuff has more than three times the recommended daily requirement.

.The per person consumption of candy by Americans in 2009 was an astounding 24.3 pounds, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Big business
.Halloween isn't just for kids. While 82 percent of children take part in Halloween festivities, a surprising 67 percent of adults also join in the fun.

.U.S. consumers spend as much as $ 1.5 billion on costumes each year, and more than $ 2.5 billion on other Halloween paraphernalia, such as decorations and crafts — more than $ 100 million of which is spent online.

.The first Halloween card was made in the early 1900s. These days, U.S. consumers spend about $50 million on Halloween greetings.

.Candy corn, anyone? With an estimated $ 1.93 billion in candy sales, Halloween is the sweetest holiday of the year, beating out Easter, Valentine's Day, and Christmas. In fact, one quarter of all the candy sold each year is purchased between September 15 and November 10.

.In 2009, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reports, the major pumpkin-producing states produced a total of 931 million pounds of the orange gourd. Illinois led the pack, producing 429 million pounds. California and Ohio were also major pumpkin producers, producing at least 100 million pounds each.

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Funny cartoon of the day

Funny cartoon of the day