During Samhain, supernatural forces were thought to be stronger than normal. Many cultures honor their ancestors and welcome spirits at this time in autumn before the approach of winter.
Souling, for example, is a centuries-old tradition in Cheshire where actors known as mummers perform a play for All Souls Eve on 1 November. The tradition was intended to protect communities against outsiders and dark spirits.
In the east of Kent, a similar ritual known as hoodening takes place each year in villages such as Sarre and St Nicholas-at-Wade about four days before Christmas. A troupe of costumed villagers carry a wooden horse to local pubs and perform a play which has death and resurrection as the theme. Some believe it came from an Anglo-Saxon custom.
The following month in the orchards of southern England, Apple wassails, or Apple Howling ceremonies, are common. Sometimes, cider is poured on to apple tree roots to encourage good spirits to produce a bountiful apple crop the following year, and then shots are fired through the branches to ward off evil spirits.
There are also traditions which mark the rebirth of a new year.
Far from courting the dead like Halloween, the tradition allegedly stemmed from a bunch of inebriated villagers.
Men folk went to a nearby village and drank too much. Intent on bring them home in the dark, their wives carved mangels and put a candle inside it to stop the wind extinguishing the flame.
Indeed, the origins of Halloween can be traced back 2,000 years to when the Celts lived across the lands we now know as Britain, Ireland and northern France. The farming and agricultural people determined the Pre-Christian Celtic year by the growing seasons and Samhain marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark cold winter. The festival symbolized the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Large bonfires were lit in each village in order to ward off any evil spirits. Celtic priests, known as Druids, would have led the Samhain celebrations. Afterward, the Druids would ensure the hearth fire of each house was re-lit from the glowing embers of the sacred bonfire, to protect the people and keep them warm through the forthcoming long, dark winter months.
I love hearing about how traditions started, but I don't follow Halloween and never have. At my age, the whole rigmarole seems silly, almost childish, not to mention a huge waste of money. Carving a pumpkin is creative, and the innards can be eaten, but the assortment of goodies displayed in shops doesn't appeal to me. Perhaps I'm too practical and lacking in the fun impulse.
Why do you celebrate Halloween?