Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future.
It’s believed the festival had Celtic pagan origins and there is evidence it has been an important date since ancient times.
As the nights grew longer, people believed the barrier between our world and the spirit realm began to thin, allowing some passage between two.
Our Celtic ancestors would light great bonfires and pound on drums to guide spooky visitors from the underworld, while wearing costumes to ward off evil spirits during the Samhain celebration.
When the Romans took over, the festival of Samhain was gradually combined with the Roman celebrations of Feralia, in which the dead were honoured, and Pomona, which paid tribute to the goddess of fruits and trees.
In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1 to be a day in which all the saints and martyrs would be honoured. This became known as All Saints Day, which made October 31 All Saints Eve. This then evolved into All Hallows Eve, and then Allhalloween or Halloween.
Where did the modern traditions come from?
Much of what we associate with Halloween today is the product of the Americanisation it has gone through over the years. Initially, the different European traditions which met in America mixed, along with some Native American ones, to form a new kind of Halloween.
Similarly, “trick-or-treating” is an American term with roots in the UK. Dating back to the middle ages, ‘Souling’ was the British tradition of going door to door and offering prayers for the dead in return for food.
Since the 19th century, children in Scotland have gone “guising” – disguising themselves as evil spirits in order to ward them off.
It is also thought that the practice of bobbing for apples is drawn from the Roman holiday Pomona, which took the apple as its symbol.
Drawing from different traditions from various countries across hundreds of years, Halloween really is a night in which things rise up from the past to mingle with the present.