The Celtic festival of Samhain is probably the source of the present-day Halloween celebration. The Celts new year began on November first. A festival that began the previous evening honored Samhain, the Celtic lord of death. The celebration marked the beginning of the season of cold, darkness, and decay. It naturally became associated with human death. The Celts believed that Samhain allowed the souls of the dead to return to their earthly homes for this evening. On the evening of the festival, the Druids, who were the priests and teachers of the Celts, ordered the people to put out their fires. The Druids built a huge new year’s bonfire of oak branches, which they considered sacred. They burned animals, crops, and human beings as sacrifices. Then each family relit its fire from the new year’s fire. During the celebration, people sometimes wore costumes made of animal heads and skins. They told fortunes about the coming year by examining the remains of the animals that had been sacrificed.
All Saints Day: Many of the customs of the Celts survived even after the people became Christians. During the 800’s, the church established All Saints’ Day on November first. They made the old pagan customs part of this Christian holy day.
The Catholic Church later began to honor the dead on November second. This day became known as All Soul’s Day. The Catholics believed that you could pray the dead out of purgatory.
The Jack-o-Lantern originated with an Irishman named Jack who loved to play pranks on the Devil. Legend is that he was made to wander the world carrying a lantern to show him the way, going to neither heaven nor hell. Hollowed out pumpkins with candles lighted inside were supposed to scare evil spirits away.
The Irish initiated “Trick-or-treating” when farmers would go from house to house to collect food for the village.
Costumes went from children dressing up like martyrs in celebration of All Saints Day to the modern day costumes of witches, etc…
SOURCE: Encyclopedia Britanica and others.
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