England - Halloween
Few holidays tell us as much of the past as Halloween. It's origins date back hundreds of years to the Druid festival of Sanhain, Lord of the Dead and Prince of Darknees, who, according to Celtic belief, gathered up to souls of all those who had died during the year to present them to Druid Heaven on October 31st. The Sun god shared the holiday and received thanks for the year's harvest.
The Druid New Year began on November 1st, marking the begginning of winter and the reign of the Lord of Death. The Druids called upon supernatural forces to placate the evil spirits, and it is from that tradition that modern Halloween gets the paraphernalia of ghosts, goblins, witches, skeletons, cats, masks and bonfires.
The custom of telling ghost stories on Halloween also comes from the Druids. To honour the Sun god and to frighten away evil spirits, they would light huge bonfires atop high hills and as they sat grouped around watching the bright flames, they would relate eerie happenings they had experienced.
As Christianity replaced the pagan religions, the church set aside November 1st to honour all saints (all-hallows) and called it All Hallows' Day. The evening before October 31st, became All Hallows' Eve - later shortened to Halloween.
Halloween customs today, although gay and frolicsome rather than sober, follow many of these ancient practices. When children wear ghost costumes, false faces or witches's hats, bob for apples, eat corn candy, or carry jack-o-lanterns they are carrying on an accumulation of ancient traditions whose significanse has long since disappeared.
The jack-o-lantern, most typical of Halloween symbols, began with the Irish. According to legend a man nemed Jack, who was kept out of Heaven because he was stingy and expelled from Hell for playing tricks on the Devil, was condemned to walk the earth forever carring a lantern to light his way.
On that day youngsters play pranks, others are gathered for a party where they enjoy a taffy pulling contest, bobbing for apples, telling ghost stories or playing games which feature spooks. The party goers play pranks on their way home.