The ancient Celtic festival called Samhain is considered by many to be a predecessor of our contemporary Halloween. Samhain was the New Year's Day of the Celts and was celebrated on 1 November. It was a joyful harvest festival that marked the death of the old year and the beginning of a new one. It was also a day of the dead, a time when it was believed that the souls of those who had died during the year were allowed access to the land of the dead. It was related to the season, by Samhain the crops should be harvested and the animals brought in from the distant fields. Many traditional beliefs and customs were associated with Samhain. Most notable was 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 31 October, 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. Come evening, evil spirits were everywhere. Charms and spells were said to have more power on the eve of Samhain. The spirits of Samhain, once thought to be wild and powerful, were now said to be something worse: Evil. The church maintained that the gods and goddesses and other spiritual beings of traditional religions were diabolical deceptions, that the spiritual forces that people had experienced were real, but they were manifestations of the Devil, the Prince of Liars, who misled people toward the worship of false idols. Thus, the customs associated with Halloween included representations of ghosts and human skeletons--symbols of the dead--and of the devil and other malevolent, evil creatures, such as witches were said to be. The original festival for the pagan Lord of the Dead became a festival of Christian dead. People went on expecting the arrival of ghosts on Oct. 31st. Halloween has become one
of the most widely celebrated festivals on the contemporary American calendar, and it is not even officially a holiday. No day off is given for Halloween, no federal decree is proclaimed establishing it as a national holiday. People just celebrate it!
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