Halloween Origins

Jack-o-lanternIt’s the eve of Halloween, which got me thinking about the etymological origins of this frightful and delicious holiday.

According to the ancient Celtic calendar, Halloween is their equivalent of New Year’s Eve. The Celtic new year began on November 1st. Ancient Celts believed that the world of the living and the world of the dead mingled on October 31st, allowing them to connect with the spirits of their ancestors. These ghostly visits helped Celtic priests make predictions about the future as their communities headed into the dead of winter.

So, even though Halloween originated with the Celts, back then it was known as Samhain (or samhuinn in Gaelic), which simply means summer’s end. Sam comes from the Old Irish word for summer and fuin comes from the Old Irish word for end. By the way, modern practitioners of Wicca still celebrate Samhain.

After several hundred centuries, a combination of politics and religion converted the November 1st Samhain celebrations to All Saints’ Day and the October 31st evening celebrations became known as All-hallows Eve or Allhallow-even.

Allhallow-even was shortened to Halloween in the 1740s by the Scottish, for which we thank them. Halloween came to North America in the late 1800s and by the 1930s it became the secular, community-centered holiday that many of us celebrate today.

Happy Halloween!


Image credit: Antonevich Anastasia / PhotoXpress.com



13 thoughts on “Halloween Origins

  1. I like the story of how a woman started the modern holiday practices because she was tired of her garden being vandalized each year. So she started throwing Halloween parades and parties. The first year was a partial improvement and the second year there were no reports of vandalism at all. Soon other cities and towns started the practice.

  2. It’s still called samhain in Irish over here. One of our ancient traditions was to have two bonfires and pass cattle between them to rid them of evil spirits. That lives on in the bonfires that we will light all over the city tomorrow evening.

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Joe! I’d never heard of the tradition with the cattle. Very cool! I wish we could light bonfires over here on Halloween, but the fire department will have none of it.

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