Hi, Pat McDermott here, getting ready for lots of chocolate and cute little pixies ringing the doorbell on Halloween. Millions of children preparing to go trick-or-treating are unaware that Halloween started in Ireland, as part of the Celtic Samhain (Sow-win) festival. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Samhain, the Celtic New Year, marked the end of summer and the start of winter. The boundary between the world of the living and the dead was at its thinnest at Samhain, and the Celts believed that on that night, the spirits of their ancestors passed back and forth through that boundary.
Celtic families honored their departed forebears by inviting them into their homes even as they dressed in costumes and masks to protect themselves from evil spirits. While the women prepared food for both the living and the dead, the men inventoried food supplies and slaughtered livestock to augment the winter diet. As part of the celebration, the people allowed their household fires to go out, and they tossed the animals’ bones on communal bonfires from which each hearth was ceremoniously relit to start the New Year.
The arrival of Christianity incorporated Samhain into the Christian calendar by renaming November 1st All Saints’ Day and November 2nd All Souls’ Day. Nice try, but several customs have survived these name changes, including the wearing of costumes and masks. The Irish who emigrated during the 19th century famine brought their Halloween customs all over the world. In America, they melded with the harvest traditions of other cultures, such as carving pumpkins into Jack-o’-lanterns.
Best wishes for a fun and safe Halloween!
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