The History of Samhain - What is Samhain and how do we celebrate it?
Ireland is well-known for its elaborate celebrations, events and occasions, many of which go back centuries. These give us a great insight into our history and culture which we seek to continue representing to this day.
One of our most prominent age-old traditions is Samhain, dating back as far as the 9th century, with significant cultural connections to the Celts and Celtic Ireland.
As we approach Samhain, we’d like to tell you all about this tradition, the common practices involved with the celebration in the past and how we continue to celebrate it in Ireland today.
What is Samhain?
Samhain is an exciting celebration in Ireland that is derived from our ancient mythology and is full of Irish symbolism, much of which remains relevant today
...But what is Samhain, and how did it originate?
The most common description given to Samhain describes the celebration as marking the end of the harvesting season because from this point on, we were seen to be entering what is often known as the ‘darker half’ of the year.
Because Samhain was known to divide the lightest part and darkest parts of the year, it was believed to be the most active time of year for the spiritual world. During Samhain, spirits could take advantage of having a greater passage into the mortal world.
Celebrations for Samhain begin on the 31st of October through to the 1st of November. This is also significant in that it marks the end of the summer season, as the halfway point between the Autumn equinox and Winter solstice.
Samhain not only marked the end of the harvesting season, but it was also viewed in a similar regard to New Year’s Eve today, signifying the ending of one year and the beginning of another.
How was Samhain celebrated?
Spanning back twelve centuries, Samhain has a rich history of both unique and familiar traditions, many of which survive today.
The first way that Samhain would be celebrated was with a supper. Food would be prepared and offered first to the ancestors. This night was said to let people connect with their loved ones, as the spiritual world was believed to have had a great presence during this time.
It was also a common practice to light bonfires on the night of Samhain. The bonfires would act as a source of light and heat on the cold and dark night of Samhain each year. It was also said that a bonfire would help to encourage good spirits to approach and to dispel and protect against the presence of any negative and evil spirits.
Fortune telling was commonplace during Samhain, an activity of fascination among younger people who wished to hear predictions for their future, from love and marriage to prospects and health.
In ancient times, celebrating Samhain often involved everyone wearing costumes and masks in a disguise, mainly to help to scare away and frighten evil spirits. This goes back to the idea that spirits were at their most active during Samhain.
While we might not necessarily refer to it as Samhain today, it’s clear that it is a dominant influence in the internationally celebrated Halloween, celebrated annually on the 31st of October.
So what are some of the main ways we pay homage to Samhain today?
How does Samhain continue to be celebrated?
Over the centuries, the way in which we celebrate Samhain, or Halloween, continues to represent that of the traditional celebrations, though some exciting new traditions have since emerged, too.
Each year, Halloween involves people of all ages dressing up in costumes to celebrate the day, representing the ancient tradition of warding off the evil spirits that were believed to loom during Samhain. While small kids ‘Trick-or-Treat’, big kids dress up for ghoulish parties!
Speaking of Trick-or-Treating - this is also loosely based on the Celtic activity of ‘mumming’ - dressing up in costumes and performing in exchange for food and drink.
Some fortune-telling games and activities are also still celebrated today, representative of much of the fun and excitement that would surround Samhain activities in the past.
Dunking for apples is one of the popular fortune-telling activities that arose from Samhain, which involved trying to successfully retrieve an apple from a bucket of water. Those who achieved it would be said to have good fortune in the upcoming year.
We hope you have enjoyed reading our blog on ‘The History of Samhain’.
We love to explore our history and heritage with our friends around the world, and share our stories of Samhain - the original Halloween!