The origins of Halloween

The Halloween (alternatively known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve) is a yearly celebration which is set on 31 October, a date which signifies the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. Halloween initiates the triduum of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead ones, including the saints (hallows), the martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.

Within Allhallowtide, the traditional focus of All Hallows’ Eve centers around the theme of mockery of death, relying heavily on humour and parody. The word ‘Halloween’ means ‘hallowed evening’ or ‘holy evening’. It comes from a Scottish term for All Hallows’ Eve (the evening before All Hallows’ Day). In the Scots language, the word ‘eve’ is ‘even’, and it can also be contracted to e’en or een.

This holiday is observed in various countries worldwide, but above all it has a special status stemming from historical reasons in the Celtic nations or in the Celtic-speaking territories in Europe. It is as such a significant holiday celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, Cornwall, Galicia and Brittany.

Map depicting the 7 modern Celtic nations.

A map depicting the 7 modern Celtic nations

The Halloween traces its roots from the Celtic history, but was subsequently Christianised. It is vastly related to the feasts influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, with likely pagan roots, especially to the Gaelic Samhain. According to other sources, it is said that it had actually originated independently of Samhain and that it has solely Christian roots.

The Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year. It is celebrated from sunset on the 31 October to sunset on the 1 November, or about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. It is also one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with the following three ones: Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh.

Halloween’s place of origin

The site of Tlachtga (aka Tlachta) on the Hill of Ward, in County Meath, Ireland is believed to have been the first site of the celebration of Samhain, the precursor to our modern Halloween. The ringfort dates from around 200 AD but festivals and rituals at the site may have taken place as far back as 1000 BC. Priests, augurs and druids used to assemble there to light the winter fires of the Great Fire Festival on Samhain eve. Under penalty of law, all fires that were lit within the kingdom that night were to be kindled from the fire at Tlachtga. Samhain was a festival celebrating the dead and it also marked the beginning of the Celtic New Year. It was during this time that the Irish believed that the graves would open and their gods and spirits, who dwelt inside, would walk the earth again. The emerging of creatures from a cave, Oweynagat, (Ireland’s so-called ‘gate to hell’) is part of this belief.

The site of Tlachtga (Tlachta) on the Hill of Ward, in County Meath, Ireland.

The site of Tlachtga (Tlachta) on the Hill of Ward, in County Meath, Ireland

The site takes its name from Tlachtga the daughter of the Druid Mug Ruith who died there giving birth to triplets. It was known in medieval Ireland as a place where Mug Ruith’s flying machine Roth Rámach had been seen, and where the Ard Rí (High King of Ireland) Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair had held a massive assemblage in 1168. He was the last High King of Ireland before the Norman invasion. It’s one of only three similar sites in Ireland; the others being the Hill of Tara and Rathcroghan in nearby County Roscommon.

The text in italics can be originally found here.

One Response to The origins of Halloween

  1. Glam says:

    Since when is Galicia in Spain part of the Celtic nations? Since when do Galicians speak a Celtic language? Please, correct the article.
    Galicia is NOT a celtic nation, since thy speak a latin language closely related to Spanish and Portuguese, and by the way, is not the only territory in Spain which has Celtic roots. The North of León and Castile have also Celtic origins.

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