Many of the customs of Halloween have come down to us from the early ages, and the present Halloween is a combination of various ceremonial days of long ago. The early Romans held a yearly feast in honor of Pomona, the goddess of fruits, and from this festival at the close of harvest, when nuts and fruits were used in abundance, was acquired the popularity of nuts and apples for Halloween revels.
Several centuries before the coming of Christ, the people of ancient Gaul and Britain were largely influenced by priests called Druids. The Druids were very superstitious and had many strange rites for reading the future and obtaining benefits for their people. From their ceremonies after the gathering of the harvest, and from, their worship of the sun that he might return and bring them heat for their crops, are derived customs still practiced on Halloween.
The Druids believed that on the last night of the old year, which came when the cattle were brought in from the pastures for the winter, the thirty-first of October, the lord of death gathered together the souls of all those who died during the year. These souls had been condemned to live in various animals and on this night it was decreed what animals they should inhabit during the coming year. This was not only a time of festival, but the presence of the gathered souls called for mystic rites.
Centuries later, when the Christians were no longer persecuted, a day was set apart as All Saints’ Day in memory of all departed saints, whose number was so large they could not be given special days. This became a time of merrymaking that people might forget the thought of death and the malign influences that were supposed to be abroad. This anniversary came upon the first of May, but later it was changed to November the first, and the autumn festival of the Druids became All Saints’ Day. The superstitious people of Ireland, England and Scotland yearly observed this day, and since it was in memory of the dead they believed that upon this night spirits were abroad, accompanied by witches, goblins and ghosts, who went about playing ill pranks. Spells and charms were supposed to have unusual power and many tests were made to read the future and show the guidings of fate. Robert Burns, in his poems, recounts many of the customs and ceremonies of All Saints’ Day.
Though spirits, witches, fairies, ghosts and goblins are no longer supposed to trouble us at this time, Halloween, the Hallowed Even of All Saints’ Day, is still a time of merrymaking, pranks and mischief, when many of the ancient customs of early days are enjoyed by the boys and girls of the present.