1. The End of Harvest Season, and the Beginning of the Dark
As the story goes, the ancient Gaelic Festival of Samhain was the original incarnation of Halloween. Held from sunset on 31st October until sunset on 1st of November, Samhain was primarily a celebration of the end of Harvest season and the welcoming in of winter (or the 'dark half' of the year). But as with most things pagan, Samhain also had plenty of focus on the supernatural...
2. The Spirits of the Dead
The pagan Celts believed that the 31st of October was a day on which the walls between our world and the world of the dead became thin and traversable. It was a common fear that spirits would visit on this night, thus many people would dress up as scary creatures themselves to help ward off these spirits. And so our tradition of costume-wearing was born (supposedly)!
3. Pomona, Goddess of the Fruit Trees
Upon the Roman invasion of Celtic Britain, the festival of Samhain was embraced and added to by the new rulers. Samhain was incorporated into the Romans' own Pomona festival, held on 1st November to honour the Roman goddess of 'fruitful abundance'. Apples- as well as other fruit and nuts- were thus incorporated into the festival. The modern tradition of 'apple-bobbing' can allegedly be traced back here for this reason.
4. Christian Imperialism
When it was declared legal in AD 313, Christianity spread through Europe like a big ol' holy fire, converting Britain before you could say 'agnostic'. Realising that appeasement of the masses would avoid a revolt, Church leaders decided to incorporate pagan festivals into Christian celebrations rather than banning them outright. Consequently, Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV moved the Christian All Saints' Day from 1st May to 1st November to coincide with Samhain/Pomona, and in one fell swoop the harvest festival- a commemoration of the deaths of mortals- instead became a remembrance of the deaths of Saints.
This moment is also notable for the name which spawned from it. The eve before All Saints' Day came to be known as All Hallow Even, before being abbreviated to Hallowe'en, and finally- as it's known today- Halloween!
The original 'trick-or-treaters' were apparently druids who went door to door begging for offerings to their gods. They would offer to pray for the souls of the dead in exchange for these donations, but if the home-owner refused the beggar would respond with the threat of 'trickery' at the home-owners' expense. Essentially a B.C. version of Jehovah's Witnesses.
6. A drunken Irishman called Jack
Ever wondered where our fascination with Jack-O-Lanterns comes from? Well, let us take you on a trip to Old Oirrrrland to find out:
As the tale goes, 'Stingy Jack' was an Irish drunkard (sorry to add to the stereotype friends; it's an old story) who persuded the Devil to climb a tree for an apple. When the Devil agreed, Jack carved a holy cross into the bark, forcing Satan to stay up there until he promised never to come after Jack's soul.
Upon dying years later, Jack- who had lived a far from virtuous life- was refused entry to Heaven, and so moseyed on down to to Hell to see about a room. But El Diablo was nothing if not a man of his word, and refused to take the Irishman's soul. Jack- inexplicably eating a turnip at the time- turned to leave, resigned to walking the earth for all eternity, but before he disappeared the Devil threw a burning coal at him. Jack caught it in his half eaten turnip, which became a kind of makeshift lantern that the man used on his lonely, eternal walk. And that was how the first Jack-O-lantern came to be (at some point pumpkins replaced turnips due to the comparative ease with which they could become lanterns).
7. The Occult
With its roots set firmly in Celtic paganism, Halloween has long been linked with the occult.
Even today Christian spokespeople- such as Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire- criticise it for being a "dangerous celebration of horror and the macabre" which could encourage "pitiless [Satanic] sects". The Vatican itself has also disparagingly labelled it a celebration of "terror, fear and death" with an “undercurrent of occultism”. Read More
Now, though these comments could be dismissed as the usual denigration of all things un-Christian, there are many others who believe that, back in the day, such grim rituals as firstborn sacrifices were performed on Halloween. According to accounts from Julius Cesar (among others) children and adults were placed in large wicker statues and set alight to appease the pagan gods on the festival of Samhain.