Once a year it happens.
It happens when the autumnal equinox settles on the state, slowly, like an old woman shuffling down the street.
The crisp October wind scatters crayon-colored leaves while the moon, looking like an oozing, ripe persimmon, hangs low and full in the sky.
Under the leafless, barren trees, a small skeleton, a space creature, and a cardboard robot approach a house, ring the doorbell, and demand a treat.
Quickly, their sacks are filled with gum, suckers, mini candy bars - everything your mother wouldn't let you eat before dinner. Then they're off to another house to make another demand, moving like giggling shadows in the night.
Nearby, a glowing Jack O'Lantern illuminates the dark as parents keep a silent vigil in the family car.
It's October 31st.
And for millions of people, the last night of October is a unique and bizarre celebration. A holiday filled with fun, treats, and consuming; a holiday rich in traditions and symbols that date back more than 1,000 years before Christianity.
A holiday that, even today, remains misunderstood.
Once there were human and animal sacrifices. Huge, village-wide bonfires, dances, and costumes made from the heads (and hides) of animals filled the autumn night. It's here we find the roots of Halloween: with the Celtic people.
For the Celts and their priests, the Druids, Halloween marked the beginning of a season of decay, cold, death, and darkness. At this time, the Celts believed the souls of the dead were allowed by their god, Samhain, to return to their earthly homes for the evening. Samhain, the Lord of the Dead, acted as a tour guide during this ethereal journey. For the Celts, autumn was the season of the final harvest and, by allowing the dead to join in the party, the Celts ensured prosperity for the coming year.
The dead also helped the Druids tell the future.
But not everyone was thrilled that the ghost of a long-dead neighbor might show up for coffee. So, to protect themselves, villagers lit bonfires, not only to honor those who had died, but to guide the visiting spirits, and keep them away from the living.
For the Celts, this early Halloween celebration marked a time when all types of beings - both living and dead - walked the earth.
ROME AND CHRISTIANITY
Slowly, time and the Roman Empire would change things.
The Romans, seeking to gather territory, conquer the world, and spread their unique culture, overran the Celtic countries.