History of Halloween

 Rituals, festivals ... and the dearly departed

 Today, we normally associate Halloween with pumpkins, kids, costumes and candy.

 It's a long way from the beginnings of this annual trick-or-treat fest but the roots of it are very much buried in a dark history.

 The origins of the day actually go back to between 1000 and 100 B.C. The Celtic people celebrated the new year with a Druid festival when Baal, the

 Celtic god of Spring and Summer, ended his reign after the harvest. It was also when the Lord of the Dead, Samhain, began his reign.

 It is the time to hallow, to venerate the dead and in so doing, acknowledge their energy which still flows through us.

 The festival began on the eve of November 1, when the souls of the departed supposedly revisited their old homes to comfort themselves with food or drink provided by their relatives. The Druids believed that the dead stalking the countryside would play tricks on mankind and cause panic and

 destruction. They had to be appeased, so country folk would give them food as they visited their homes. Hence, "Trick or Treat."

 Many traditional beliefs and customs associated with Samhain, most notable that night was the time of the wandering dead, the practice of leaving offerings of food and drink to masked and costumed revelers, and the lighting of bonfires, continued to be practiced on October 31, known as the Eve of All Saints, the Eve of All Hallows, or Hallow Even. It is the glossing of the name Hallow Even that has given us the name Hallow e'en.

 The spirits of Samhain, once thought to be wild and powerful, were also thought to be evil at the time and you can see the evolution of those thoughts in many of Halloween's props, including ghosts and human skeletons -- symbols of the dead.

 Another custom that we're familiar with today is bobbing for apples. The story goes that when the Celts were absorbed by the Roman Empire, one of the many rituals they inherited was the worship of Pomona, goddess of the harvest, and apples were the sacred fruit of the goddess.

 Which brings us to another crop -- pumpkins. In ancient times, Irish children used to carve out potatoes or turnips and light them for their Halloween gatherings.

 They commemorated Jack (hence, Jack-O-Lantern), a villain so wicked that neither heaven nor the Devil wanted him. He wandered the world endlessly looking for a place to rest, his only warmth a glittering candle in a rotten potato.

 Scottish children hollow out and carve large turnips and put candles in them. Irish children use turnips or potatoes. In parts of England they use large beets. When the Scotch and the Irish came to the North America they found pumpkins, which of course make a perfect Jack-O'-Lantern.

 As for costumes, from earliest times people wore masks when droughts or other disasters struck. They believed that the demons who had brought their misfortune upon them would become frightened off by the hideous masks if they ventured outside. Eventually, it became a children's game of scaring the neighbours, who would offer "treats" to their visitors.