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Ancient Origins of Halloween

This year, Halloween falls on Saturday, October 31, and coincides with a spooky full Moon! What is Halloween really about? How did it get started? Here’s a brief history—it may surprise you!

The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honour all saints. Soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain.

The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, festive gatherings, donning costumes and eating treats.

 

Spooky Halloween Blue Moon!

On Halloween night, we’ll be treated to more than just candy! October’s second full Moon—the full Hunter’s Moon—will rise on Saturday, October 31, peaking above the horizon after sunset. The notable thing about this full Moon is that it’s the second full Moon in one calendar month, making it a “Blue Moon.” 

Wondering just how often a full Moon coincides with Halloween? Because the lunar cycle and our calendar are not perfectly in sync, this phenomenon only occurs every 18 or 19 years. Truly once in a Blue Moon! 

 Halloween Spooky Blue Moon

Ancient Origins of Halloween

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), meaning Summer’s End. This festival celebrated the end of harvesttime and the beginning of the “dark half” of the year. It was a seasonal marker as the ancient Celts bid good-bye to warmth and light as day length shortened.

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago, mostly in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and Northern France, celebrated their New Year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. 

 Halloween History pumpkin

Tales of Halloween

The ancient Celts believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest during Samhain. This had positive benefits, as it was an ideal time to consider the dead, communicate with the deceased, and also to divine the future. However, the Celts also believed that some spirits could pass through the wall and damage their crops. To mark the event, people would build huge bonfires to burn crops and ensuring harvest was complete by Halloween or bad luck would avail.

In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins. In later years, the Irish used hollowed-out, candlelit turnips carved with a demon’s face to frighten away spirits.

Many of the practices of Halloween are innocent fun, though some deal with reminders of death and concepts of good and evil.

Halloween was also known as “Nutcrack Night” in England—a time when the family gathered around the hearth to enjoy cider and nuts and apples.

When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the 400 years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honour Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of bobbing for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

 Halloween Pumpkins

Halloween Poems

Wake up your walking dead with these Halloween poems! Perfect for a card.

From “Spirits of the Dead”
By Edgar Allan Poe
“Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still
.”

From “Theme in Yellow”
By Carl Sandburg
“I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o’-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know I am fooling
.”

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYONE!

What’s your favorite Halloween tradition? Let us know in the comments!

Sources: 

History.com

Almanac.com

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