Not everyone realizes that many holidays, seasonal markers, and Christian holidays were taken from the original Pagan celebrations. The pagan holiday of Samhain, for example, is on November 1st, but their celebrations did and still do start at sunset on October 31st, which became known as Halloween. During the day on October 31st, the fires within the home are extinguished and often families would engage in a good "fall" cleaning to clear out the old and make way for the new, starting the winter months with fresh and clean houses.
At sunset on October 31, clans or local villages began the formal ceremonies of Samhain by lighting a giant bonfire. The people would gather around the fire to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. It was a method of giving the Gods and Goddesses their share of the previous year’s herd and crops. In addition, these sacred fires were a big part of the cleansing of the old year and a method to prepare for the coming new year.
During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes and danced around the bonfire. Many of these dancers told stories or played out the cycles of life and death or commemorated the cycle of Wheel of Life - the seasons. These costumes were adorned for three primary reasons.
The first was to honor the dead who were allowed to rise from the Otherworld. The Celts believed that souls were set free from the land of the dead during the eve of Samhain. Those that had been trapped in the bodies of animals were released by the Lord of the Dead and sent to their new incarnations. The wearing of these costumes signified the release of these souls into the physical world.
Not all of these souls were honored and respected. Some were also feared as they would return to the physical world and destroy crops, hide livestock or 'haunt' the living who may have done them wrong.
The second reason for these traditional costumes was to hide from these malevolent spirits to escape their trickery.
The final reason was to honor the Celtic Gods and Goddesses of the harvest, fields and flocks. It was for giving thanks and homage to those deities who assisted the village or clan through the trials and tribulations of the previous year and to ask for their favor during the coming year and the harsh winter months that were approaching.
In addition to celebrations and dance, it was believed that the thin veil between the physical world and the Otherworld provided extra energy for communications between the living and the dead. With these communications, Druid Priests, and Celtic Shamans would attempted to tell the fortunes of individual people through a variety of methods. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.
Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, is a Christian created holiday devised by the early Churches of Europe as a means to convert pagans to Christianity. The celebrations were indeed taken from pagan practices, but their purposes have long since been corrupted. In fact, Easter and Christmas were derived from the seasonal celebrations of the pagans. The great churches of Europe were build upon pagan holy sites.
To pagans the world over, October 31, Samhain, is a holiday for pagans to honor our loved ones who have passed on and to share in communication with them during this time when the veil between worlds is narrowed. And November 1st still marks the beginning of the New Year.
Those who came before us were so much more connected to the natural world, the cycles of life, and the rhythms of nature. Appreciating the true meaning of holidays and seasonal markers can help restore those connections and give increased meaning to our complex lives.
(Thanks to http://www.paganspath.com/magik/samhain-history.htm.)