Halloween has its history in the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (pronounced sow-en). Samhain is a celebration of the end of harvest season and the upcoming winter. November 1st was their New Year's Day. October 31st was New Year's Eve for the ancient pagans and it was on this day that they believed the walls between the world of the living and the world of the dead thinned, allowing the deceased to come into the world of the living and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops. A bonfire was part of the Samhain celebration.
Fairies were believed to roam the land dressed as beggars and would go door-to-door asking for treats. People who gave them food would be rewarded, while those who didn't were punished. Children were also known to go around asking for treats or tricks, the trick in this case being played on the homeowner or his property if no treat was given. Thus the beginnings of trick or treating.
Early Celts would use a hollowed out turnip, gourd or rutabaga to hold an ember from the sacred Samhain bonfire to light their home hearths for the coming year. Another origin of Jack O'Lanterns was the Irish myth of Stingy Jack. Stingy Jack was a drunk and a swindler who tricked the Devil on two occasions, one for a drink and the other to climb a tree for a piece of fruit. On both occasions he trapped the Devil by using the symbol of the cross. He didn't release the Devil until the Devil agreed to leave his soul alone. When Jack died he couldn't get into Heaven b/c he was a drunk and swindler, but neither could he get into Hell, since the Devil kept his promise. The Devil felt sorry for Jack and gave him a hollowed out turnip with an ember in it to light his way while he wandered the earth. People used jack o'lanterns to scare away Jack and other spirits. When immigrants came to America, pumpkins were more common than turnips so they began to use those. And now we have Jack O'Lanterns on our front porches.
For more on Halloween history look here or here.
Halloween will always hold a special place in my heart since it was the night I found out I placed in TWRP Got Wolf? contest, which started my writing career. Do you have a favorite Halloween memory? Please share!