Neither the word Halloween nor the date, 31 October are mentioned in any Anglo-Saxon text indicating that it was just an ordinary day a thousand years ago.
From the Medieval period (1066 - 1485) through to the 19th century, there is no evidence that 31 October was anything else other than the eve of All Saints Day.
From the 19th Century to the present day, 31st October has increasingly acquired a reputation as a night on which ghost, witches, and fairies, are especially active.
All Saints Day - 1 November
In the year 835 AD the Roman Catholic Church made 1st November a church holiday to honour all the saints. Although it was a joyous holiday it was also the eve of All Souls Day, so in Medieval times it became customary to pray for the dead on this date.
Another name for All Saints Day is 'All Hallows' (hallow is an archaic English word for 'saint'). The festival began on All Hallows Eve, the last night of October.
Where does the name Halloween originate from?
Halloween comes from All Hallow Even, the eve (night before) All Hallows day. Therefore, Halloween is the eve of All Saints Day.
The Celts believed that evil spirits came with the long hours of winter darkness. They believed that on that night the barriers between our world and the spirit world were at their weakest and therefore spirits were most likely to be seen on earth. They lit bonfires to frighten the spirits away, and feasted and danced around the fires. The fires brought comfort to the souls in purgatory* and people prayed for them as they held burning straw up high.
The fires of Halloween burned the strongest in Scotland and Ireland, where Celtic influence was most pronounced, although they lingered on in some of the northern counties of England until the early years of the last century. The day of fires became 5th November (Bonfire Night), the anniversary of the Gunpowder plot of 1605, but its closeness to Halloween is more than a coincidence. Halloween and Bonfire Night have a common origin they both originated from pagan times, when the evil spirits of darkness had to be driven away with noise and fire.
Halloween is one of the oldest celebrations in the world, dating back over 2000 years to the time of the Celts who lived in Britain
Halloween is also know by other names:
All Hallows Eve
Halloween in Welsh is 'Nos Calan Gaeaf'.
Halloween is correctly spelt as Hallowe’en.
Ireland is typically believed to be the birthplace of Halloween.
The Celtic New Year began on November 1st and the belief was that, on the night before the border between the world of the living and that of the dead became blurred. The spirits of the dead would then be able to cross over for this one night into the world of the living.
People were afraid of what the spirits may do to them, so they started to dress up to disguise themselves. They would roam the streets in these disguises trying to fool he spirits into believing that they weren’t living beings. Of course the costumes weren’t nearly as elaborate as they are today, and were usually scary costumes. People would wear rags and smear ashes on their faces to disguise themselves and keep the spirits of the dead away.
Trick-or-treating evolved from the ancient Celtic tradition of putting out treats and food to placate spirits who roamed the streets at Samhain, a sacred festival that marked the end of the Celtic calendar year.
The Witching Hour
The witching hour is a time of night when supernatural creatures are believed to be particularly active, making it a prime time of night for witchcraft. Many people think of midnight specifically as the witching hour, while others more generally associate it with the dead of night, the dark hours when few people are awake and about. The association of darkness and supernatural activity is quite ancient, although the term “the witching hour” itself only dates back to around the early 1800s; terms like “the witching time of night” were used prior to this period. The witching hour is all the more significant on the 31st of October as it’s the crescendo to the heightened awareness and activity of Halloween.