Halloween: The Celtic Festival of Samhain

Samhain is from Old Irish and means roughly “summer’s end”.

 

The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the “lighter half” of the year and beginning of the “darker half”, and is sometimes regarded as the Celtic New Year.

 

The ancient Celts believe that the border between this world and the Otherworld become thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through.

 

The family’s ancestors are honoured and invited home while harmful spirits are warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits leads to the wearing of costumes and masks. Their purpose is to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm.

 

In traditional Celtic Halloween festivals, large turnips were hollowed out, carved with faces and placed in windows to ward off evil spirits. The carving of pumpkins is associated with Halloween in North America where pumpkins are both readily available and much larger – making them easier to carve than turnips.

 

Samhain was also a time to take stock of food supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. Bonfires played a large part in the festivities. All other fires are doused and each home lit their hearth from the bonfire. The bones of slaughtered livestock are cast into its flames. Sometimes two bonfires would be built side-by-side, and people and their livestock would walk between them as a cleansing ritual.

 

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