Hallowe’en has roots in the Celtic celebration Samhain. Samhain means "End of Summer" and is often referred to as the Celtic New Year. It is the start of the dark winter half of the year, as opposed to Beltane (occurring on May 1) which is the light summer half of the year.
Samhain is the time of the final harvest of the year. Any crops still in the fields after this date were left as a sacrifice to Nature spirits.
According to the Druids, Beltane and Samhain were the two times of year when the veil between this world and the Otherworld was blurred and ghosts and otherworldly creatures could walk the earth. Food offerings were left on altars and doorsteps for the spirits. Candles were lit and placed in windows as a form of guidance. Some would set extra chairs and place settings at the dinner table for ghostly guests. People would go from door to door in a practice called "souling" and pray for those who had passed in that home. They were given small cakes in exchange.
At this time of year ghosts, goblins, and fairies would play pranks on humans and may take their souls back to the Otherworld with them. People would dress up like these creatures to trick them so that they would not be taken. This was known as "guising".
Many Irish and Scottish Celts appeased their dead with a traditional Dumb Supper. On Samhain Eve, supper was served in absolute silence, and one place was set at the head of the table "for the ancestors". This place was served food and drink without looking directly at the seat, for to see the dead would bring misfortune. Afterwards, the untouched plate and cup were taken outside "for the pookas", and left in the woods.
Turnips were carved into faces and placed on window sills with candles inside. Since the head was the most powerful part of the body, the "head" of a vegetable was used to frighten off any spirits. If a spirit managed to get past the lantern's protection, offerings of food were given to spare the home. As immigrants moved to North America, turnips were less abundant, so pumpkins were carved instead.
Many customs were observed during Samhain, such as:
~People would write their name on a stone and throw it into the bonfire. In the morning, if you could not find your stone, you would have bad luck that year.
~Barnbrack Cake foretold the future. There is a rag, coin, and ring placed inside the cake and then everyone is given a slice. If you got the rag, your financial future was not promising. If you got the coin, you would have a prosperous year. If you got the ring, you would soon find romance.
~A girl should take a wild rose that has grown into a hoop, creep through it 3 times, quietly cut it and put it under her head while she sleeps.
~Hair cuttings were often thrown into the bonfires to predict their future love.
~If you put two large nuts into a peat fire representing two intended people, their curling together would be a good omen for the couple. If they jumped apart, it's best to look for a new mate.
~Blind date was a game where girls were blindfolded and sent out into the fields to pull the first cabbage they could find. If the cabbage had a large amount of dirt attached to the roots, their future husband would have money. They would then bite into the cabbage to see if their future husband would be bitter or sweet!