Thursday, October 28, 2010

Samhain and the evolution of Halloween

Samhain, pronounced sow-in, is often credited with the origins of the secular and modern-day Halloween holiday and there have been misconceptions of the Ancient Celt festival as being evil and a time of devil worship.

The term Samhain translates to mean "summer's end" and the Samhain festival was a celebration of the end of the light season and the beginning of the dark season, but that shouldn't imply anything sinister. The Ancient Celts believed a new day began with nightfall. To them, the "dark" was the birth of new beginnings. And so Samhain marked the beginning of a new year.

In early Ireland, people gathered for Samhain at the end of harvest. Fire played a pivot role in the celebration. Hearth-fires were extinguished and a priest, or Druid, would light a central bonfire. Gifts were given to show gratitude for the harvest, prayers were offered and sacraments were cast into the fire. At dawn, each household would take a a torch or a burning ember from the flames and rekindle their home fires.

 Samhain was considered an "in-between time." Not belonging to the old year and not yet a part of the new year. It was viewed as a time outside the natural state of things. A time of reversals. A time of chaos and upheaval. A time when the dead could return to their loved one and celebrate.

In ancient days, Samhain would've been celebrated at the end of the harvest. It wasn't until Christianity spread that firm dates were established for celebrations. In 835, Pope Gregory combined pre-Christian festivals with Christian celebrations to make the acceptance of Church doctrine more appealing to new converts.  Samhain  was blended with other religious festivals, such as All Hallow's Day and All Saints Day.

But some of the ancient traditions survived the Christian invasion. According to Celtic legend, a magickal apple tree grows at the heart of the Otherworld and many a hero set out across the sea to find this mystical place in order to eat its enchanted fruit. Re-enacting this quest, villagers poured water into large wooden tubs, tossed in apples and took turns bobbing, or "dookin'" for them.

Ancient Celts also wore costumes and painted masks as a way to placate the spirits that roamed the villages during Samhain. Today, children and adults alike dress up for a night of trick-or-treating. They attend parties, hold bonfires, and tell ghost stories. Many never realizing how old theses traditions really are or the meaning behind them.

So, what Halloween traditions will you celebrate this year?

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Anonymous said...

Fascinating information. Thanks for the informative post. I have three boys. The two little ones will go to Trunk-or-Treat at the church Saturday night. On Sunday we'll go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood, and my eldest will stay behind to hand out candy.

Anonymous said...

Information is missing and slightly inaccurate. The ancient Celts followed a moon calender and it was set with the lunar calender. Halloween was considered the day that a true evil took over the world.

Also I have read a few articles claiming that Halloween was actually the day that the Celts remembered the Great Flood caused from the evilness of mankind. But as Irish culture is often to celebrate instead of cry when something is wrong, it's a holiday.

Just food for thought and not meant to offend.

Kristal Lee said...

I hadn't heard of the connection between Samhain and the Great Flood. I'll definitely be looking into it. Thanks!

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