Here in Mississippi, many think of Halloween as a holiday invented by the candy companies. However, it goes much deeper than that. Originating with the ancient Celtic peoples, Samhain (pronounced sow-in) is a very important holiday, or Sabbat.
To many religions, such as Wicca, it is the day the God dies, later to be reborn during the Yule. Also called, Ancestor night, it is the night when the barrier between life and death is but a thin veil, and it is a time to reflect on the past year and come to terms with death; to honor the dead. To many other pagan religions, like the Druids, it is a celebration; for the harvest is in and safely stored for the winter. It is the night to reflect upon, welcome and appease the dead. It is the eve of the New Year.
Many Christians are misled into thinking that it is a celebration of a Celtic god called Samhain, the God of the Dead. This is of course false, as the Celts never had a deity by that name. In fact the word Samhain, or from the Gaelic Samhuin, means “summer’s end.” As they only recognized two seasons, summer and winter, Samhain was the line between the two. Here is a great article about it: The Myth of Samhain.
This October 31, some of those who will not be celebrating Samhain with their coven, will sitting by their candy bowls waiting for children to trick or treat them. Others will be out collecting that tasty bounty from the former. Where did this tradition start?
In Scotland and Ireland, as part of the Samhain festival, young men would dress up in white robes, veiling or blacking out their faces. They carried candle lanterns that were carved from turnips. Their mission was to mimic or placate evil spirits that may be lurking that night. To ward off evil spirits, the people would hollow out and carve faces into large turnips. They would place candles inside them and put these Jack-O-Lanterns on their windowsills.
Eventually, by the 19th century, the tradition of donning costumes and masks was practiced by people of all ages. They would go door to door, carrying their turnip lanterns, to perform tricks and entertain, in exchange for coins and food. This was brought to the United States during the mass immigration of Irish and Scotts, in the early 20th century.
For more interesting reading on the subject of Samhain, here are some great sources and some sources teaching the misconceptions mentioned above:
The Myth of Samhain
The story of Halloween
Exposing Satanism: Halloween, the misconception