SUNDAY, OCTOBER 31: Many of Halloween’s colorful customs can be credited to Samhain, an ancient pagan festival. Today, Samhain still exists for modern Pagans and Wiccans. Some traditions mark Samhain today, while others mark it tomorrow; many Pagans and Wiccans celebrate both days. (Wikipedia has more.)
Traditionally, Samhain marked the end of the bright, bountiful summer season and the beginning of the dark, difficult winter season. (The ancient Celtic year was split into two seasons. Get details at Wicca.com.)
On Samhain, Celts would often feast on weak livestock or set this meat aside for later meals, since these animals weren’t expected to live through the winter. Death became associated with the festival, and perhaps most important, Celts believed that the “wall” between the world of the living and the world of the dead thinned on Samhain, so the spirits of the dead roamed streets and homes. Some Celts would dress in costume to scare or appease the spirits; others would leave out food; and still others would carve faces into turnips to ward off evil spirits.
Today, some Wiccans still invite the spirits of the dead to attend festivities, although most just take the time to honor ancestors and those who have passed on. The traditional colors of orange, black and silver are worn by many Pagans and Wiccans, and feasts of pork, gourds, apples and mulled wines fill devotees’ tables.