Halloween has its roots in the Celtic new year festival of Samhain in ancient England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. This was considered the beginning of winter. Herds left the pastures for the barns, and tenant farmers renewed their leases. Their pagan priests were called Druids. “Now on or about the first of November the Druids held their great autumn festival and lighted fires in honor of the sun-god in thanksgiving for the harvest.” Druid priests fostered the belief that ghosts and witches were more likely to wander around on this night, more than all other nights during the year. The Celts lit bonfires on hills to frighten spirits away because they believed that “on the eve of this festival, Saman, the lord of death, called together all the wicked souls that within the past twelve months had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals.” “During the Samhain festival the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes, and those who had died during the year were believed to journey to the otherworld.”
The Celts lit bonfires to frighten away evil spirits because they were afraid they would cause harm or death. They also put on “masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present. It was in those ways that beings such as witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day. The period was also thought to be favorable for divination on matters such as marriage, health, and death.”
When the Roman Empire spread out to include Great Britain and Ireland, Roman festivals were added to the Celtic celebration. Under the 400-year Roman rule, the festival of Samhain came to include the Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomona. Feralia was “a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead.” Pomona, the Roman goddess of the harvest, fruit, and trees, was honored in another Roman celebration. The symbol for Pomona was the apple and this “probably explains the tradition of ‘bobbing’ for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.”
But the Celts did not stay in darkness. The Gospel came to their land and many Celts abandoned their pagan practices to serve the True and Living God. Some Druid priests also gave up their pagan practices to serve Jesus. Celtic Christians were devoted to the Lord, but those who resisted the Gospel continued these pagan practices of Samhain along with the added Roman celebrations.