Did you know that the ancient festival of Samhain was the precursor to what we know as Halloween?

There are four Celtic seasonal festivals- Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa.

Samhain was celebrated on the First of November to mark the end of the harvest and the beginning of Winter. Like many traditional festivals the eve of that festival was when the celebrating took place. The word for November in Irish is Samhain and the Irish word for the eve of Samhain  is Oíche Shamhna. At Samhain, it was believed that the division between this world and the supernatural otherworld was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. Families came together to honour their dead ancestors, while also warding off harmful spirits. People wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves so that if they encountered any spirits while out and about, the spirits would see them as one of their own!

So, where does the term Halloween come from?

With the coming of Christianity, many Celtic and pagan traditions evolved into Christian celebration days. In the 8th century Pope Gregory 111 created a Christian Feast Day, All Hallows Day ( All Saints’ Day) on November 1st.  ( Hallow, meaning to make holy, venerate). The word Halloween is derived from the evening before All Hallows Day, “All Hallows Eve”, AKA Halloween!

It is believed by many that the Irish who emigrated to America helped to popularise the celebration of Halloween. However, the beliefs and customs of many European ethnic groups and the native American  Indians probably brought about a distinctly American version of Halloween celebrated today.

Did you know that the first Jack- O’- Lanterns were not carved from pumpkins, but from turnips! The Irish folktale goes that “Stingy” Jack tried to trick the devil but failed. He was cursed to roam the earth with only a burning coal in a carved out turnip. When Irish immigrants arrived in America, they found that the pumpkin was more readily available than turnips and easier to carve too!

So, don’t forget to carve a scary face into your pumpkin ( or turnip)  and place at your door to ward off any wandering evil spirits!