With everyone getting their costumes ready for Halloween I decided to look into the history of this holiday. I had heard it had its origins in Ireland so I did some reading to see if we really could claim this holiday as our own. And it turns out we can! Halloween came from the ancient Celtic festival Samhain. Samhain (pronounced sow-in) comes from old Irish and means 'end of summer'. This word is still used in Irish today when referring to the month of November which is mí na Samhain (pronounced me na sow-in) meaning the month of November. The festival of Samhain is said to be over 2,000 years old and used to celebrate the passing from summer to winter. The Celts believed that during the festival of Samhaim the veil between this world and the next world was particularly thin, allowing spirits to pass between the two worlds on this night.
Many of our Halloween traditions like dressing up and pumpkin lights came from this Celtic festival. They disguised themselves using animal skins to protect against evil spirits on the prowl and lit fires to guide the good spirits during Samhain. Households would also carve scary faces into turnips and leave it at the doorstep to ward off evil spirits. With the introduction of Christianity many pagan festivals and traditions were incorporated into Christianity. I wrote about this in a piece looking at the history of the celtic cross.
It was believed that the transition to Christianity would be more accepted if they incorporated already familiar symbols and traditions. The 1st November became All Saints or All Hallows day which honoured the saints and martyrs. This meant the night before was called All-Hallows Eve, which later became known as Halloween. So there you have a brief history of Halloween and how Irish people were dressing up long before we exported the tradition to the rest of the world! Next week I'll write about Irish ghost and spirits such as banshees.
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