A History Of Halloween, or What Is Samhain?
Samhain, pronounced sow-wen, is a Celtic word meaning "summer's end." It is also the Irish Gaelic word for the month of November. Samhain is the last of three harvest festivals in the Celtic year, and it is the Celtic New Year. The Celts only recognized two seasons: summer, and winter. So, with the last harvest, the summer ends, and the cold, dark, dangerous days of winter begin. Any food that was not brought in from the fields by the end of the day on October 31, Samhain, was left in the fields and not eaten. It was considered to belong to the fairy folk at that point, and would make anyone sick who tried to eat it. The food in the storerooms by this time was all the food you were going to get between this first day of winter and the coming spring. It had to last through the cold, dark winter months. Starvation was always a possibility. Livestock was slaughtered at this time, both to preserve meat for the winter months, and to cull the herd. With fewer animals to feed, the ones that were left would have a better chance of survival until spring. This is one reason why death and the dead are associated with this day. Facing the long, deadly winter, unsure of your food supply, with no central heating, you would have to brave the elements and the dangers of the forest to gather all the wood you would need to keep yourself warm. With the days getting shorter and shorter, you would start wondering if the sun was ever going to come back. The wild animals would get hungrier and more aggressive as the winter got harder for everyone. All made this day, marking the beginning of the winter season, one of fear and danger. But it was also a day of celebration, akin to the
American Thanksgiving -- thanking the gods for the blessings of a bountiful harvest. To the Celts, "between" times and places were very important. At these points, the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest, and communication between the fairy realm, the land of the dead, and the human world is much easier. "Between" places include doorways between one room and another, or between inside and outside; or the seashore, marking the meeting of earth and sea. "Between" times include dusk and dawn, marking the transitions from night to day, and day to night; and in more recent centuries, midnight, representing the transition between one calendar day and the next. The transitions between seasons are even more important "between" times. The transition from winter to summer at Beltaine (May 1), and the transition from summer to winter at Samhain, were the two most important days of the Celtic year; but Samhain was the most important, because it also marked the transition from one year to the next. Ergo, it is at this time that the veil between the worlds is thinnest, and communication between the world of the living and the world of our deceased ancestors, the fairy folk, and other spirits is easiest. This is also a good night for divination for that reason. At this harvest celebration, when the veil between the world of the living and the dead is at its thinnest, one's ancestors are therefore honored and venerated. Hospitality was very important to the ancient Celts. They would leave food out on their hearth, or out on their front step, as an offering to the