Halloween is said to be largely influenced by Samhain, a Gaelic festival that marks the end of the harvest season and the start of the darker half of the year (winter). Samhain has a long history, having been mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature; the celebration is known to actually have pre-Christian roots. It is celebrated on the 31st of October beginning at sunset and ending at sunset on the 1st of November. Samhain was one of four Gaelic festivals that marked the seasons and was mainly observed in Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. The Samhain festival consisted of the slaughtering of animals for winter, rituals involving bonfires that were said to have cleansing and protective powers, and more. During Samhain, it was believed that fairies or spirits could more easily enter our world. Many of these spirits were thought to be remnants of nature spirits and pagan gods. Food and drink were offered to the spirits during Samhain and it was thought that the souls of the dead revisited their homes during this time. In current times, many Wiccans and Celtic neopagans observe Samhain as a religious holiday.
Samhain dates back to Gaelic Ireland and is attested in some of the earliest Irish literature from the 10th century. It was one of four seasonal festivals, the others being Beltane, Imbolc, and Lughnasadh, and was thought to have been one of the most important festivals of the year. Contrary to popular belief, Samhain is not a celebration of the Celtic god of the dead, and instead celebrates the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.
At the start of the celebration at sunset on October 31st, Samhain ceremonies and festivities would begin. People would gather and start bonfires and animals and crops were burned as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. It was a way of giving the Celtic Gods and Goddesses their share of the crops and herds from the previous year. In addition to being used for sacrifice, these fires were considered sacred and served to cleanse the old year and prepare for the new year.
During the Samhain celebrations, the Celts would normally wear costumes while dancing around their bonfires. The dances had deep meaning and told the stories of life and death. Some of the dances also commemorated the cycle of the Wheel of Life. Along with preparing for a new year, Samhain was considered a time in which spirits could freely enter the world. Many of these souls, or spirits were respected and honored however some were also feared. Some were feared because it was believed that they could hide livestock, destroy crops and haunt the living who they thought had done them wrong. The costumes that were worn by the Celts during Samhain festivities were believed to allow the living to hide from the feared spirits.
While Halloween does have roots in Samhain, they are not the same thing. Samhain is still celebrated today by various groups including Wiccans and there are many ways in which the festival is celebrated. There are not only group rituals, but single rituals as well. Anyone interested in celebrating Samhain with traditional rituals can learn more by doing a simple search online. Halloween, while celebrated on the same night as Samhain, differs from the original festival in many ways but also shares lots of similarities. With the rise of Christianity, Halloween was actually thought by many to have been created in an attempt to replace Samhain. Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, is celebrated in much the same way as Samhain with costumes, celebrations, and more. The two holidays, while definitely intertwined when it comes to their history, do differ from one another as Samhain has roots in paganism while Halloween has roots in Christianity.