Halloween’s origins are derived from the Celts who inhabited the British Isles, including Ireland, and much of Western Europe. They held a major celebration near the end of October which they called Samhain (variously pronounced “sam-hane,” “sow-en,” “soow-an,” etc.). The word Samhain means Summer’s End. Some people think Samhain is a Celtic god of the dead, but this is a myth.
As is customary with our modern Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the evening before or Samhain Eve is when the celebrations began. The villagers would customarily extinguish the hearth fire and do a good fall cleaning – tossing out the old in order to make way for the new!
The Celts believed that the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest at this time of year. They believed that those friends and relatives who had passed on would return and inhabit the bodies of animals during this time. Sometimes it would be a black cat, which is the source of the superstition about them.
Samhain was also a celebration of the completed harvest and the Celts would give offerings to their gods and their dead relatives. Young men would go door-to-door to collect food to donate to their deities. They would also ask the villagers for kindling and wood to fuel the Samhain bonfire which was built on the highest hill so it could be seen from afar.
The people would gather around the fire to burn crops and animals as offerings to the gods in thanksgiving for the harvest. They would wear costumes and dance around the bonfire. These costumes were worn to honor the souls of the beloved dead and to hide from malevolent spirts they feared would destroy crops, harm livestock or haunt the living who had done them wrong.
When the celebration had ended, the villagers would carry embers from the sacred fire back to their homes, frequently in hallowed out turnips or gourds. These embers would be used to relight their hearth fires, thus starting the new year with a clean slate. (Add bibliographical references at the end or links in the text.