Hallowe'en is short for All Hallows' Eve, the evening before All Hallows, or All Saints' Day, which is November 1st. (Hallow meaning saint or holy person).
Another name for Hallowe'en is Samhain, meaning Summer's End, a Celtic festival, when winter, and also their new year, started.
This was also the time of year when everything withered and died, and the priests of the Celtic people, the Druids would perform magic rites and offered sacrifices to their gods to make sure life and new growth would return in spring.
The Druids thought all life came from the underworld and that was where the spirits of vegetation and growing things went during the winter. At Samhain the barriers between this world and the underworld were opened, and the Celts believed the spirits of their dead relatives would revisit their homes.
The Samhain festival began with the lighting of huge bonfires, which were lit to drive away evil spirits, to honour the sun, and to give thanks to the gods for the crops and fruit which had been safely gathered in. The fires also guided the souls of the dead on their journey back from the underworld. People thought the ghosts of their dead relatives returned to comfort themselves at the fire before facing the cold and loneliness of the coming winter.
As Christianity grew and spread many pagan customs and festivals continued but were given new names and meanings to fit in with Christian beliefs. Therefore in AD837 the Church leaders dedicated Nov 1st to the memory of the saints in Heaven, and called All Hallows' Day, but still the belief continued of the souls of the dead returning at this time of year, so the Church called Nov 2nd All Souls' Day, when people could say masses for their departed loved ones. As the centuries passed, people did not grow any less superstitious, and went on thinking of Hallowe'en as a time when witches and demons were active and when ghosts and spirits made an appearance.
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