The modern festival of Hallowe'en developed from the two closely linked Christian Festivals of All Saints (1st November) and All Souls (2nd November) both of which were concerned with the dead.
The Festival of All Saints, known in English as All-Hallows or Hallowmas (Hallow from the Old English word for holy man or saint) commemorated all the Christian saints and martyrs. The Feast of All Souls was added later to commemorate the faithful departed. In particular, the early Church believed that souls who had died without proper preparation or who died without final rites could be helped towards Heaven and their sufferings relieved by the actions of the living. All Souls was therefore an important feast at which special masses were held and pious acts were encouraged. One of the most tangible methods of assisting souls was in the ringing of church bells and this went on for hours at All Souls. The idea of Purgatory and the living interceding on behalf of the dead was rejected during the Reformation and All Souls was excluded from the English Religious Calendar.
Thereafter Hallowe'en became generally known as the time when spirits and the spirit world were close to the living. Old texts often describe the games and love divinations (a popular pastime at any time of the year, it seems! :D) that were carried out. This description is from 1825...
The virgil of All Saints' Day on which it is customary for young people in the North of England to dive for apples, or catch at them upon one end of a kind of hanging beam, at the other extremity of which is fixed a lighted candle and that with their mouths only, their hands being tied behind their backs.
And this one from the early 20th century...
It was also the custom on All Hallowe'en to peel apples, then whirl the peel three times around the head and then throw it over the left shoulder to the floor. The letter formed on the floor by the apple peel would be the intitial of the future husband or wife. Mrs. H assured me that her apple peel always formed the letter J, and she eventually married a man called Jack.
Two nuts could also be chosen to represent two potential lovers and placed side by side on the fire shovel over the flames of a fire. The future for the couple could be gauged by whether the heated nuts jumped apart or together!
Another tradition was if you brushed your hair in front of the mirror at midnight, it was said the face of your future spouse would appear over your shoulder.
In some areas, Hallowe'en was also known as Mischief Night when misbehaviour and trickery was encouraged and allowed. Perhaps the origins of trick or treat!
Whatever you're doing this Hallowe'en, stay safe and have fun!
PS the Kindle edition of my debut Regency novel The Paradise Will is now only £3.35 on Amazon UK or $5.40 on Amazon.com - great to relax with after all that trick or treating;0)
And hurry...for a limited time only I think Ice Angel is available for just 99p on Amazon UK and $1.59 on Amazon.com !!
Jack O'Lantern image by Toby Ord, from Wikimedia Commons Snap-Apple Night (1832) by Daniel Maclise, from Wikimedia Commons Early 20th Century Hallowe'en card, from Wikimedia Commons