For the ancient Celts the medieval Goidelic festival of Samhain, starting on the 31st of October, marked the end of the harvest, the end of the "lighter half" of the year and beginning of the "darker half". It was celebrated over the course of several days and had some elements of a Festival of the Dead. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. People and their livestock would often walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual, and the bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames.
It was believed that during this time the veil between our world and that of the dead was at its thinnest and the ghosts of the dead were free to walk amongst the living. To guard themselves from these often angry spirits the people would wear masks to scare off the ghosts. And there you have it, the humble beginnings of one of our most beloved holidays.
My favourite element of Hallowe'en is the origins of the jack-o-lantern, which is taken from the age old Irish tale of Stingy Jack. According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
I do hope everyone has an enjoyable Halloween. Just remember to done your scariest mask to keep those ghosts at bay and be sure to keep that jack-o-lantern lit to fend off ole Jack....don't say I didn't warn you.
Trick or Treat!