Their new year began Nov. 1, starting with a festival the previous night honoring Samhain to mark the beginning of the season of cold & darkness (beginning of winter), and human mortality. The Celts believed that Samhain allowed the souls of the dead to return to their earthly homes on this night.
In addition to making themselves visible to humans, these spirits also played tricks on people.
To commemorate Samhain, Druids - high priests and teachers of the Celts, ordered the people to put out their hearth fires and build a huge new year's bonfire of oak branches, which were considered sacred. The Druids burned animals, crops and - according to some historians - human beings as sacrifices to Samhain. Each family then relit its hearth fires from the new year's bonfire.
During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes by examining the remains of the animals that had been sacrificed for signs that would foretell the fortunes of the coming year. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two autumn festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.
The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a harvest festival named after Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.
By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.
Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas. Source: History Channel
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