Samhain - The Origin of Halloween
By Tonia Jordan
traditional Celtic holiday, literally means “summer’s end.” The
Celts divided the year into two seasons, representing light and
dark. The first day of each season held a celebration, with
Beltane on May 1st and Samhain on November 1st.
Samhain was an important festival, as it welcomed new beginnings
and a new year for the Celts. It also symbolized a union or
communality between people. Bonfires were lit by people within a
village. While the bonfire blazed, villagers extinguished all
other fires. Each family would then light its hearth from the
common flame of the bonfire, bonding the families of a village
Samhain Eve was a time of reflection for the Celts, and a time
for honoring the dead. This particular time of year signified
the final harvest, a time of gathering and preparing for winter.
Often winter was a time of famine and some would not survive
through the long months ahead. Samhain was a way of honoring
those who had died, a celebration of the spirit remembered.
It was a common belief that the “veil” between the world of the
living and the world of the dead was thinnest on the eve of
Samhain. In Modern times, many have twisted this thought to evil
intent, though its origin is much more honorable. The dead could
return on this one night to the places where they had lived, and
food and entertainment were provided in their honor. This
symbolized a village existing in harmony with its past, present
This also led to the tradition of lighting a single candle in a
window, to light the way for ancestors to find their way home.
Food offerings were also left on doorsteps for the spirits
(which led to our modern “trick or treating”).
It was the Romans who added their “Feast of the Dead” to the
celebration of Samhain. The Christians destabilized the holiday
by introducing “All Saint’s Day” on November 1st, and re-naming
October 31st to All Hallow’s Eve, which later became Hallowe’en.
For Christians, All Saints Day celebrates the spirits in Heaven
and Purgatory. It became customary to bang pots and pans
together on the eve of All Saint’s Day, to let the souls in Hell
know they weren’t forgotten.
Samhain is also a major celebration of Wiccans, one of their
eight holy Sabbats. For Wiccans, it is also a time of
celebrating the past and the future to come. Many Pagans
celebrate the New Year at this time.
Though the holiday has changed over the years, its intent
remains clear – it is a celebration of respect for the dead and
a celebration of the new beginning that is to come. It is a
holiday that commemorates the togetherness of a community.
Tonia Jordan is an author on
http://www.writing.com/ which is a site for Writers.
She is also a stringer for the Standard Speaker, a Pennsylvania
newspaper, and is editor of Word of Mouth Magazine.