The Short History of Halloween – The Beginning: Samhain

The origins of Halloween, as we know it today, date back over 2,000 years to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) which loosely translates into summer’s end, a period associated with cold, darkness and human / natural death. 2,000 years ago in the United Kingdom and Northern France this was the period of the year that they choose to celebrate New Year’s, which was held on November 1st. Much like our modern New Year’s the real party was the night before when the Celt’s bid farewell to what they referred to as the lighter side of the year and welcomed in the dark side with a series of bonfires, festivities, livestock and human sacrifices, costumes and last, but certainly not least, the return of the dead to the living.

The Celt’s believed that during this period the boundary between the living and the dead opened and that these otherworldly spirits had a wail of a time causing mischief, destroying crops, and even in some cases harming and murdering those amongst the living that were unfortunate to come across them. The modern Halloween traditions of wearing costumes and trick-or-treating originate from this period, and more pertinently the Celt’s attempts to tame this wandering spirits. The Celt’s would wear masks and costumes made from animal skins and bones to disguise and protect themselves from the spirits. They would also leave offerings of food and water outside their homes as gifts to ward off any malevolent ghosts.

However, it wasn’t all bad news during this period as the boundary between the living and dead was torn open the Celtic priests, known as Druids, were allegedly enabled with the power to make predictions and prophesies about the future. At the end of Samhain the bonfires were extinguished, the otherworldly spirits returned to their own world while the Celt’s prepared for a long, cold winter.