I've no doubt whatever that most people know the factual origins, or at least some, of this time of year and it's culmination in the ritual we call Hallowe'en, originally called Samhain (pron. Sa'wein) about 2,000 years ago by the Celts who originated the festival and its meaning. Here are some bona fide facts:
In the area now Ireland, the UK and northern France or Brittany, lived the Celtic peoples whose new year began on November 1st. It marked the end of warm summers and harvesting, and the beginning of cold dark nights - often associated with human death. They believed that the night before the end of the new year, being October 31st, the boundary between living and dead became very blurred. This was the night of Samhain or Sa'wein, known for the sightings of the risen dead who roamed the land causing havoc with the living, despoiling crops, and generally playing tricks on the living by frightening them. The Celtic priests, called Druids, used this time to make predictions and sacrafices and for a people totally dependent on the seasons for their life, this was a very important time indeed.
To commemorate the events, the Druid priests built huge bonfires which the Celts set alight to burn crops and animals as sacrafices to the Celtic deities.
During these bonfires, they wore costumes using animal heads and skins, attempting to tell each others' fortunes. As the revels wore on, eventually they each took a bark and lit it from the fire of the celebration, bringing it home to re-light in their hearth and home. This, believed the Celts, would protect their homes from the cold, hungry winter ahead. If anyone were to name this "pagan" they wouldn't have been understood. It was never a religious ceremony, it was a festival of protection. The definition of "pagan" today is far removed from it's origins in the description of the habits of peoples such as the Druids, and other civilizations who practiced their customs and flourished until conquered or vanquished. To be pagan in these times was to be among the norm. It's nothing to do with religion, but rather culture.
By A.D. 43, the Romans had conquered much of this land, and in the course of 400 years occupation, combined the Celtic festival of Sa'wein with those of Roman origin. With this joining it took on more of a basic commemoration of the dead.
Not until the intervention of Christianity and Papal proclamations in the 800's did the festival of protection take on more religious meaning. In the 7th century, Pope Boniface 1V designated November 1st as All Saints Day in an attempt to replace the Celtic festival of the dead (originally one of protection) with a more church-related feast day. Let there be no doubt, however, as every historian knows, All Hallows Eve is a wonderful true pagan festival worthy of our respect and study. It was founded in myth and fear of the unknown, but a comfort to those living in a time when so many died for what seemed like magical reasons.
One of the Roman influences was the gathering of fruit, and the prized fruit was the apple. This is the origin of our "bobbing for apples".
The celebration was also called All-Hallows or Allhallowmass, from middle-English, meaning All Saints Day, gaining more and more of a religious slant, never intended in its origins. Eventually, it became All Hallows Eve, which we now call Hallowe'en, it's correct spelling.
Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2nd All Souls Day, again to commemorate and honor the dead. It was celebrated in much the same way, with huge bonfires and sacrafices of crops and animals. However, the church had now managed to garner two religious feast days from one festival of protection, having no organized religious connection.
By imitating what one most fears, it is believed that the evil is conquered, loses its power, but the reason the Celts performed this ritual only once, at the November 1st beginning of their year, was because it was the time they knew the dead could walk the earth, despoiling andcausing havoc and fear. Also, they did not want to mock these deities by flouting their image in costumes. All their ancient ceremonies in pre-Roman influence, were to honor the dead, to make sacrafice to them, to ask for their protection against the cold and starvation to come. It was not a pagan holiday as many think today, if by that one means anti-god or presence of dignity and loving power. To the contrary, Samhain was a most honored time with great participation and fervor by all Celtic peoples as they made pleas to their gods of nature, of crops and seasons and good harvests, while honoring the dead with sacrafice and fire. It was never a religion, but a celebration by a religious people, the Celts and their Druidic priests. They honored all of nature, saw god in a trickle of water or fallen leaf. Though not quite this simple, gods to them were in every living thing.
So the three festivals were the Eve of all Saints, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day, together as one called Hallowmas. Today, it's easier to say
HAPPY HALLOWEEN !!!
And why do we wish happiness on people at what the old church once believed to be a day of devil worship? Mostly because it never was. This was a myth spread by the Romans as they tried to eradicate the old ways and incorporate the new. The Celts were asked to give up their gods and honor the Roman gods and goddesses, another story altogether. Still, this celebration has been passed to us in a convoluted form of its original intent. Some things, however, remain:
The custom is for the innocent among the people to visit each home as protection from whatever deity or demon they represented. To have a child visit your hearth with guarantees that, if a sacrafice was made (now we offer candy) then the cold winter would not kill anyone of that house. We do the exact same thing now, but don't know why.
I suppose on October 31st it would be more accurate to say:
SAFE WINTER !!