Samhain - The Celtic Roots of Halloween

Posted by Shannon Lyons

A blog post discussing how Halloween derived from Celtic Ireland and how it influences some of our modern-day practices!

Samhain - The Celtic Roots of Halloween Image

We at Redfaire pride ourselves in having a global reach with a local touch. Knowing these local cultures and how their traditions work is essential for providing the best service possible for clients. From languages, to knowing traditions and holidays, we aim to integrate into the culture we are working with as seamlessly as possible and offer our support how we can. As Halloween approaches, we thought it would be nice to bring to light the Celtic roots of this Autumnal holiday.

Marking the end of summer, the pagan festival of Samhain (pronounced “Sow-when”) was a much anticipated time for the ancient Celts. During this time, people believed that the barriers between the spirt world and physical world were weaker, allowing spirits to pass through. The spirits of loved-ones were invited through and honored while evil spirits were warded off.

The act of dressing up on Halloween is derived from this practice. Celebrants would dress in costumes and masks to disguise and protect themselves from any evil spirits passing through the veil between worlds.

As time progressed, Bonfires known as Samghnagans, were incorporated into the festivities. This was done by local families to help ward off evil spirits, witches, and fairies. ‘Tricks’ also took place by local children, which were often blamed on the fairies.

By Rannpháirtí anaithnid at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

‘Trick or Treating’ comes from a mixture of these pranks along with the practice of mumming. This is a type of folk play that combines music & dance, specifically ancient Celts would go to people’s houses during Samhain and sing songs to the dead. They received cakes, or ‘Treats’ for their work.

Pumpkin Carving stems from the ancient tradition of creating ‘Jack-o-Lanterns’. This was originally done on turnips (which look much more terrifying!) and had coal inside to light. 

Samhain is a holiday rich in tradition and beliefs and is one that we still see throughout our modern celebrations. Marking the calendar every year through Halloween, be sure to read up on how rich the history is and where exactly our modern-day traditions come from!

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