The origins of Halloween have been detected in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the Roman festival called Parentalia but is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-an). The name is derived 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” or “The Feile na Marbh” -“The Festival of the dead” which took place on Samhain.
The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits both harmless and harmful to pass through. The family’s deceased ancestors were honoured and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks. Their purpose was to disguise oneself as a harmful spirit and thus avoid harm. 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 were doused and each home lit their hearth from the festival bonfire. The bones of slaughtered livestock were 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.
The word Halloween is first attested in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All Hallows Evening, that is, the night before All Hallows Day which is a day set aside to honour Saints. This may seem a little confusing to some to have monsters and devils running around partying and celebrating the darker more macabre side to life just prior to honouring holy men and women but it is a tradition none the less celebrated by countries all over the globe.
So no matter if your personal beliefs are sacred, secular, or pagan, Halloween holds mystery, suspense, fear, ghosts, and thankfully… candy for just about all of us. Summer has ended, the harvest has been brought in, and winter is surely coming. Candlelight will dance in carved jack-o-lanterns, and more than 2,000 years of history remind us that for this one day, the dead, witches, goblins, monsters and fairies will walk among us.