For our ancestors this was a time to slaughter the excess animals that could not be housed for the winter. Some animals were sacrificed but the overriding reason for the slaughter was to survive the harsh winters of the north. These sacrifices were probably done as blood offerings, with the bones laid out on the their skins to be, "consecrated", to ritually resurrect them for next year. This is of course in line with Thor's resurrecting of His Goats and the resurrection of the boar in Valhalla that feeds the einherjar.This sacrifice was of course done to ensure that they would have enough food from year to year.
Different books will give you several dates for this rite, or just a general, "seasonal changes", time frame. I am not a purist so I celebrate this wonderful time of the year on the day before Halloween. It is just to warm here in New Jersey to do a Winternights ritual any earlier.
To celebrate the feast I make sure that the table has a rich assortment of fruits, vegetables, and grains, to represent the harvest, and of course several different types of meats, to represent the livestock and also the, "Wild Hunt", to come. I make sure to put out an extra plate for our ancestors to feast upon ! This is similar to what the Celts did during their Samhain festival. I also make several toasts to the Alfar and the Disir for their assistance in the harvest this year. And of course I thank, from the bottom of my heart, the Gods and Goddesses !
For the rite itself I wrote my own version based on many different sources. I believe that when I speak to the Gods and Goddesses the words should be mine and not those of others. However, If you are interested, two excellent books with Winternights rituals in them are: Teutonic Religion, by Kveldulf Gundarsson,( out of print but still available at Amazon.com through private sellers), and Book of Blots, by the members of the Troth, which is much cheaper and is still available new.
To all who read this have a wonderful Winternights feast and a terrific winter season !
Go with Odin's wisdom, Freyja's love and Thor's protection !