The History of Halloween and the Sacred Celebration of Samhain
Samhain (pronounced sow-en), from the Irish Gaelic word meaning “summer’s end”, is an ancient Celtic fire festival and is thought to be the origin of the modern-day celebration of Halloween.
The pagans regarded Samhain as the first day of winter and the beginning of the new year, a belief dating back to the ancient Celts some 2000 years ago. Although the modern-day tradition of Halloween is celebrated on October 31st, the Celtic day of Samhain was marked on November 1st, with rituals beginning at dusk the night before.
In ancient Celtic culture, it was believed that the veil between the physical and spiritual realm was at its thinnest during Samhain, causing spirit sightings and prompting contact with souls who had passed or were residing in other dimensions. To honor this day, fields were cleared and crops were burned in bonfires as offerings to the deities. The bonfires further represented a cleansing of the old in preparation for the new year. People danced around bonfires as a depiction and celebration of the wheel of life and the cycle of life and death. Costumes were worn to honor the dead and as a representation of souls being freed to move on to their next incarnation (an event the Celts believe occurred on the eve of Samhain). Dressing in costume was also believed to ward away evil spirits that were freed on Samhain eve, as well as honor and find favor with the deities that had assisted them throughout the year. In past tradition, the Celts also offered animals in sacrifice as a show of gratitude to the gods and goddesses for the year’s harvests.
Today, Halloween celebrations are enjoyed in many places throughout the world. However, the meaning and origins of this beloved holiday have been widely forgotten in modern times. Although they share some similarities, the ancient religious celebration of Samhain is vastly different than the tradition of Halloween that is celebrated today.