A Celtic New Year
The Celts were a diverse tribe during what was referred to as the Iron Age—a prehistoric period when tools and cutting implements were made of iron. During the Roman era however, the society was made up of the Gaels, the Cornish, the Welsh and the Bretons, all peoples who spoke Celtic language. The origin of our Halloween began as a ceremony to celebrate a New Year's festival that began on November 1st, in homage to Samhain, a change in season where animal sacrifices were made to the Lord of the Dead, Saman, and the sun.
This holiday also reflects the influence of medieval churchmen and in particular, Pope Gregory III, who declared November 1st as the feast of the departed Christian saints in the 18th century. It is the eve of All Hallows Day, or Hallow's e'en that we now commemorate on October 31. It is also said that prayers were offered up to release the souls that waited in Purgatory for entry into Heaven.
This combination of both pagan and Christian holidays created a fascination with the dead, witches and other creatures. Masked and custom villagers representing the souls of the dead would parade to the outskirts of town to lead the ghosts away. The Christian contribution came in the form of relics of saints that parishioners displayed and some of them dressed up as their favorites.
In what was early Ireland, it was customary to extinguish the hearth fires at home, while waiting for the Druids to light the new year's fire in a specific spot, the burial place of Tlachtga, daughter of a great Druid king. Objects were cast into the fire as gifts and supplicants. A hot brand would be then be taken back home to relight the home fires.
Beautiful, isn't it? Except there is a darker purpose. It is said that during some rituals a solicitation was asked for in the name of Muck Olla, a shadowy figure who would promise to wreack vengeance on the ungenerous. It is thought that Muck Olla's vengeance was, over time, transformed into that of slighted fairies and goblins, who relied on tricking disappointed revelers.