Halloween looked very different 2,000 years ago, but even today we still carry on the ancient traditions that began with Samhain.
Halfway between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, the Ancient Celts celebrated Samhain (pronounced Saah-win or say-ween), a harvest festival to mark the end of the light and the coming of the dark. Meaning “summer’s end”, Samhain signaled the coming winter throughout Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and beyond. As the days grew shorter and darker, the crops reached the end of their life cycle, trees became bare, animals burrowed away, and life seemed to cease across the land. It was a time to shed the old and make room for what is to come.
To the Celts, this point in the season meant death, but not in a negative way. Samhain was said to be the day on which the souls of those who died during the past year would travel to the underworld. On this night, the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest and communication with the other side is more possible than ever. People sacrificed animals and offered up food and drink in honor of the dead. They lit bonfires to help their loved ones move on and to keep harmful spirits away. People dressed in costume and wore masks to frighten evil entities and stay safe.
As Christianity moved into that part of the world, Celtic practices were labeled as dark and demonic, and their deities were thought to be devilish. Over time, those who followed the old religion had to hide their ways and the traditions mostly died out, though we still honor aspects of them today. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve, the night before the Christian holiday of All Saints Day. On All Hallows Eve or Hallow Evening, some people still set out food and drink for the dead, while others kept up dressing in costume. Eventually, the costumed folk began performing acts of mischief and demanding treats in return, which evolved into trick-or-treating.
Hallow Evening became Hallowe’en and European immigrants brought these ancient traditions with them to North America, where October 31 became the creepy holiday we know and love today. But it’s still possible to honor the old roots of Samhain, aside from the tricks and treats. Do so by reflecting on and letting go of old ideas, feelings, regrets, and energies. Indulge in a cleansing salt bath or meditation and focus on releasing what you no longer need to create room for what the year ahead will bring.