Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. Traditionally, it is celebrated from 31 October to 1 November, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset.
1. Samhain was one of four major Celtic seasonal festivals, along with Imbolc, Beltane, and Lughnasadh, which occurred around 2000 years ago in regions including modern-day Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, northern France, and the Isle of Man.
2. Some modern Pagans consider it “the witches New Year” while others consider it the end of the year.
3. Held from sundown on October 31 through November 1, it took place between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.
4. Linguists translate the Gaelic word Samhain to mean “summer’s end.”
5. Rituals surrounding Samhain include bonfires, healing, dancing, thanksgiving and honoring the dead.
6. It is one of the four Gaelic festivals along with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh. It is also the third harvest festival of the eight Witches Sabbats.
7. During Samhain, the Celts harvested their crops and probably slaughtered livestock for food. Then, they celebrated their abundance with sporting games and a giant—and raucous—feast. The people also prepared winter housing for itinerant warriors and shamans.
8. On a spiritual level, Samhain marked the time of the year in which the barrier between the earthly world and the spirit world dissolved, allowing spirits and faeries to walk among, and perhaps torment mortals.
9. Celtic priests built huge bonfires, practiced divination rituals, and conducted rites to keep ghouls at bay, but since they didn’t keep written records, many of these practices remain shrouded in mystery.
10. The church has campaigned for many years to stop people from celebrating Samhain/ Halloween and to observe the holiday as All Saint Day instead, without much success.
11. Throughout history, many people have believed that Samhain has dark and demonic roots. This misconception is largely due to Charles Vallancey, a British military surveyor and amateur historian who first visited Ireland in 1762 while on a surveying mission. Vallancey became fascinated with the region, and he wrote a massive, three-volume work on its history and culture.
12. But in his opus, the clueless scholar erroneously claimed that linguists had mistranslated the word “Samhain.” Instead of meaning “summer’s end,” Vallancey argued it actually referred to a Celtic god alternately named “Balsab”—bal meaning lord, and sab meaning death.
13. Today, neo-pagans give the ancient holiday of Samhain a modern twist: Religious groups ranging from Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans to Wiccans have created their own unique ways to mark the mystical harvest festival, ranging from historic recreations of the Celts’ celebrations to rituals and rites honoring ancestors, deceased loved ones, or spirits.
14. Some of Halloweens most common traditions are rooted in Samhain’s festival roots, such as the carving of pumpkins and turnips, bobbing for apples, bonfires and dressing up.
15. Samhain is pronounced “Sah- win” or “Sow-in”.
16. It is considered a liminal time when the veil between life and death grows thin. Food is set aside for ancestores and protective spirits and rituals honoring the dead take place.
17. Some celebrate Samhain with a ritual to guide the dead home by opening a western facing door or window and placing a candle by the opening.
18. As it was believed that faeries, spirits, witches and demons roamed the earth on Samhaim, food and drink were customarily set out to placate them. Later on people began dressing up as these creatures and claiming the goodies for themselves, sometimes performing antics and tricks in exchange for food and drink. This practice evolved into trick or treating.
19. Trick or treating was first called souling when gifts were given in exchange for prayers.
20. Door to door trick or treating has only been around from the 1940’s.