Farmer’s Almanac: Halloween

halloween-scene_alexanderrathsssWhen Is Halloween

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN

The origin of Halloween can be traced to the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, which rhymes with cow-in), meaning Summer’s End. This festival celebrated the end of harvesttime and the beginning of the “dark half” of the year. It was a seasonal marker as the ancient Celts bid good-bye to warmth and light as day length shortened.

The ancient Celts believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest during Samhain. This had positive benefits, as it was an ideal time to consider the dead, communicate with the deceased, and also to divine the future. However, the Celts also believed that some spirits (ghosts) could pass through the wall and damage their crops. To mark the event, people would build huge bonfires to burn crops.

In later years, the Irish used hollowed-out, candlelit turnips carved with a demon’s face to frighten away spirits. When Irish immigrants in the 1840s found few turnips in the United States, they used the more plentiful pumpkins instead. See more about the origins of popular Halloween traditions—from witches on broomsticks to bobbing apples.

Following the Roman Empire’s rule over Celt-occupied lands in the 1st century A.D., the Romans incorporated many of the Celtic traditions, including Samhain, with their own. Eight hundred years later, the Roman Catholic Church further modified Samhain, designating November 1 as All Saints’ Day, in honor of all Catholic saints. This day was formerly known as Allhallowmas, hallow meaning to sanctify, or make holy.

All Saints’ Day is known in England as All Hallows’ Day. The evening before, October 31, is known as All Hallows’ Eve, the origin of the American word Halloween!

If All Saints brings out winter,
St. Martin brings out Indian summer

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