Halloween: A Celtic Holiday

The history of Halloween is another tradition brought to America by the Celtic people of Ireland and Scotland. Learn a little and then discover more for yourself.

Halloween,  the great holiday celebrating children, their custumes and the macabre have some pretty amazing origins. Growing up in Middletown we would arrive home from school on Halloween day, grab an empty pillow sac and run out of our houses to knock on our neighbors doors asking for candy. The imagery of skulls, pumpkins, witches and all the other scary stuff has a fascinating origin in Celtic culture which includes the Irish and the Scottish.

The word Halloween is derived from the term "All Hallow's Eve" which was shortened to "Hallow's Eve" and then "Halloween."  All Hallow's Eve is the day before All Saints Day in the Catholic calender. This day, like many other days in the Catholic Calendar, were replacements for pagan holidays.

The Celtic pagan holiday associated with Halloween is "Samhain" which is pronounced Sa-wen or Sou-wen. References to samhain go back as far as history can tell us about the Irish and the Celtic peoples who inhabited areas as diverse as Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Spain. For many Celtic peoples it was the end of the summer harvest and it was also the end of their calender year. The ancient Celts separated the year by the light half and the dark half. The light half was celebrated on Beltaine (May 1st) and the dark half on Samhain (Nov 1st)

In Irish mythology and histories Beltaine and Samhain were times when the door between this world and the other world was at its closest. These were times where you could communicate with your ancestors and other spirits from beyond. Where Beltaine celebrated life, Samhain reminded you of death, the cycle of life and mysteries of the unknown. It was a time of year when families would make decisions on what animals to slaughter and this brought death even closer. Samhain was also said to be a time when the good people or the fairy folk were able to cross over and create mischief. Many Irish would wear masks during festivals on Samhain to disguise themselves from evil spirits. This tradition continued into the 20th century with Irish Grandmothers dressing young boys as girls to trick the fairies and protect a family's only son. In Ireland and Scotland large turnips were carved and put on mantels to ward off evil spirits.

When the Irish and Scottish came to America they brought their traditions with them. After several decades or more the holiday became based on the old traditions with new ones thrown in. This Halloween remember the roots because the ancient traditions are alive and well.

There is alot more history and culture to discover about Samhain, Halloween, Celts and ofcourse the Irish!.... Come join Claddagh Na nGael at any meeting, seisun, lesson, event and more.

Claddagh Na nGael is an Irish cultural group on the Jersey Shore promoting Irish culture big and small. Music, language, dance, history  and all that is in between. We are currently teaching Irish dance, fiddle playing, tin whistle, Irish language lessons and more.

All are welcome!

Jim Kelly


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sean Conneamhe October 23, 2012 at 11:49 AM
"Happy Samhain!"
Hank October 24, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Let the kids have fun before All Saints Day. Then teach them about the past saints and help make help them to become saints. Thanks for the informative article!
NJarhead October 24, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Good read Jim Kelly. Thank you.


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