Samhain literally means summer’s end. In Ireland and Scotland, Halloween is known as Oíche Shamhna. The Celts believed it was the day that the dead revisited the mortal world.
It was the change to Christianity that Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints’ Day to honor the blessed souls of the dead or the “Feast of the Dead”. It marked the end of summer and the start of the winter months. October 31st was then known as 'Halloween'; November 1st as 'All Saints' Day'; and finally November 2nd was known as All Souls Day' when prayers were offered to the souls that were in Purgatory waiting to be admitted into Heaven.
In early Ireland, the people would come together for Samhain. It was known as the principal calendar feast of the year. The greatest feast was the Feast of Tara, where they focused on the royal seat of the High King. In every house the hearth fires were put out as they waited for the Druids to light the new fire of the year. This was done at Tlachtga, (not Tara). This was the burial place of Tlachtga the daughter of the druid Mogh Ruith who was thought of as a goddess in her former life.
Sacrifices and gifts were offered up in thanksgiving. Personal prayers in a form of an object or symbol were cast into the fire. At the end of the ceremony, the brands were lit from the great fire of Tara to relight the home fires of the Tribe. The flame marked the time of beginnings of dreams, projects and hopes for the new year.
In Italy, Halloween runs about one week. Children don't go door to door for candy. They stuff themselves with pumpkin risotto and porcini mushrooms. They also make cakes in the shape of beans called Beans of the Dead. In Southern Italy the families prepare a feast on All Souls' Day. They go to church and pray for the souls of the deceased. They Stay all day, leaving their home open for the spirits to visit and eat the feast they prepared. The Romans celebrated Feralia in honor of the dead, but it took place in February at the end of the Roman year.
In Germany, it is a tradition to put all knives away. This to insure they do not hurt the returning spirits.
In Southern Germany and Austria, Catholics celebrate Seleenwoche or All Souls' Week between October 30 and November 8th.
Halloween in Canada started when the Scottish and Irish immigrants arrived. The festivities include carving Jack O' Lanterns, parties and decorating homes with corn stalks and pumpkins. There is even trick or treating.
Teng Chieh is the Halloween festival in China. They place food and water in front of photographs of family members who have passed away. Paths are lit with lanterns in order to light the paths of the spirits who walk the earth on Halloween night.
In Czechoslovakia, chairs were placed by the fireside on Halloween night. One chair for each living member of the family and one for each members spirit.
El Dia de los Muertos is the holiday celebrated by the Spanish speaking nations. It is a joyous holiday. It is a time to remember friends and family who have died. The three day celebration begins on October 31st to November 2nd on All Souls' Day. It is believed that the dead would return to their homes on Halloween. Altars are constructed and decorated with candy, photographs, water, favorite food and drinks of the loved one. Candles are burned to help the souls find their way home.