Halloween rituals have changed some over the years and stories of the holiday's origin are interesting and in some cases include a bit of the occult and dark magic. The dark and forbidden have always been intriguing; which might explain why Halloween is such a fascinating holiday. No other holiday offers such a superstitious background with different influences and creates controversy in some religions because of the Pagan origins.
The Celtic festival of Samhain is the most commonly recognized as the origin of Halloween. The loose translation to Samhain is 'summer's end;' which sounds harmless enough but ancient Celt's believe that this was the time when the distance between the normal world and spirit world was the smallest and that good and evil spirits could cross over into the living world. Costumes and masks were used to hide from and appease the evil spirits. The Celt's would also hollow out large turnips, carve faces in them and place them in the window to ward off the evil spirits.
Samhain was also the end of the lighter half of the year and a time when the Celts would prepare for winter by taking stock of the food they would need and, if needed, would slaughter livestock for the winter. Bonfires were a part of the festival and often the bones of the animals would be tossed into the fire. Samhain was the Celtic New Year and the festival would last for days.
One of the more interesting Celtic traditions of the festival of Samhain was divination. Divination would be the equivalent of fortune telling, being a 'seer' or any other type of supernatural activities. With the separation between their world and the spirit world being so close at this time, it was considered the perfect time to commune with the spirits and practice divination.
Food and drink were often used in divination and some of it sounds like harmless fun. For example, someone would seek out the first initial of their future spouse by carving an apple in one long strip then tossing it over their shoulder. The peel lands in the shape of their future spouse's first initial. Other divinations were not so pleasant. A woman could sit staring at a mirror on Halloween night and the image of her future spouse should appear. If the woman will die without being married, a skull will appear in the mirror.
Not all cultures observe Halloween and not all religions accept Halloween because of its origins. Modern Halloween rituals have changed some, as have the meanings behind them. Costumes for children are no longer about appeasing evil spirits and more about them choosing to dress as their favorite characters. In the US at least, carved turnips were replaced by carved pumpkins. This had a lot to do with the size and availability of the pumpkins. Bonfires are still popular in some areas but they are more for sitting around and roasting marshmallows while telling ghost stories than other purposes.
It is interesting to see how Halloween came to be in existence, what rituals are still observed and what has been lost over time. It isn't just a holiday for kids to put on costumes and trick-or-treat door to door. There is a real history to Halloween and a deeper meaning to its rituals.