In the Celtic world, the end of October and beginning of November were set aside for a great feast every year to celebrate the end of the summer (or Samhain) and the beginning of winter. People played games and told stories about great Celtic heroes and the gods and goddesses of Celtic lore.
The festival also marked the thinning of the veil between this world and the Other World. The spirits of the dead could visit this world, and the living could visit the land of the dead.
Samhain was so special, in fact, the normal laws of the universe did not apply. Fairies left their underground homes, and ordinary humans were subjected to fantastic dreams and adventures (often involving fairies). Families called on the spirits of dead ancestors to visit them. And the spirits who responded to their calls were often granted special powers. Celtic monsters prowled the earth with such ferocity that even the gods and goddesses were no match for them. In Ireland, Aillen mac Midna re-enacted his annual ritual and burned the court of Tara to ashes.
Bonfires blazed on the hilltops, lighting up the shortening nights. These bonfires were so significant that their ashes were used in magical charms to ward off illness and disease.
Today, Samhain is celebrated as Halloween on October 31st. The word "Halloween" actually means All Hallows' Eve, or the eve of All Saints' Day, which is celebrated in the Christian community on November 1st. This special day is set aside to honor the souls and memories of martyrs and saints. November 2nd is known as All Saints' Day (or Dia de Los Muertos),when Christians pray for the souls of their dearly departed. These three days are known collectively as the Triduum of All Hallows' Eve (or Hallowtide).
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Roke, Sweden, celebrating All Saints' Day. Photo by David Castor.
Remember: the custom of carving and lighting turnips, pumpkins, and other gourds was meant to ward off the evil spirits that might visit on Halloween. Halloween is also a time to dress up and make merry! In the United States, it marks the beginning of the holiday season that runs through New Year's Day. So eat, drink, and be merry!
October 26, 2021
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