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5 Ways to Celebrate Halloween’s Pagan Roots

We all celebrate Halloween by dressing up, giving out candy to little kids, watching Halloween specials, and apparently going to parties.

But, Halloween wasn’t always a time of levity and thrilling spooks and scares. It originates from the Gaelic festival of Samhain, and the Pope Gregory III’s “All Saints Day”.

The name Halloween actually comes from “All Hallow’s Eve”, which was the day before the religious celebration of All Saints Day (November 1st). However, with time it has changed to its modern name. The celebrations for All Saints Day adopted some of the traditions of the pagan holiday of the same time, as Christianity tends to do (though that is a discussion for another time).

But what was this Samhain that All Hallow’s Eve stole the traditions of?

Well, Samhain was celebrated at the end of the harvest. It was a festival to mark the end of harvest time, and the beginning of the wintry half of the year, the darker, starving time of less food and freezing winds.

Pleasant.

While Samhain has a very fascinating history, it doesn’t really pertain to Halloween, so I’ll summarize: Samhain is set halfway between the start of fall (the Autumnal Equinox) and the start of winter (the Winter Solstice). It was the time when livestock were brought back from the fields, and the ones that were to be killed for winter’s food were butchered. And, Samhain was a liminal time, a time of open doorways between here and…elsewhere.

During Samhain, it was easy for spirits to cross over to this world, which is a dangerous thing. In order to prevent this, large bonfires were lit.

However, the spirits of the deceased, and the nature spirits were also able to cross over during Samhain, and needed to be welcomed and appeased, in order to ensure survival through the winter.

In order to do this, food and drink was left outside houses for the wandering spirits to collect, as an offering. And, great feasts were held to welcome the spirits of the dead back to the world for the night.

Most importantly, people would dress up as spirits as part of the tradition of “mumming” (a kind of acting, but also sense of becoming the spirit, standing in for the spirits, while also making the spirits think that you are one of them for protection), and go from house to house, carolling, acting, and receiving food in exchange.

 

Looking at Samhain now, it is pretty easy to see its influence on our modern Halloween traditions. But, if you would rather celebrate a more traditional version of Halloween, here are five fun suggestions for activities!

 

1. Slaughter an animal, and prepare it for preservation (smoking or salting are both acceptable options), and then eat that animal during the long winter months.

 

2. Leave food outside your door in order to appease the spirits of the dead. Make sure to serve them good food, or they’ll be displeased.

 

3. Light a big fire. A huge fire. Once you have the massive bonfire going, perform a few cleansing rituals around it.

 

4. Host a massive feast, and be sure to set places at the table for (and serve meals to) your dead family members. For even more fun, try and have a conversation with them.

 

5. When children in costumes come to your door, offer them candy, because maybe, just maybe, those aren’t children after all, but nature spirits bringing you the blessing of a healthy and safe winter.

 

I hope that these tips help to make this and all future Samhains All Hallow’s Eves Halloweens happy, safe, and fun.

I'm a huge nerd. Born and raised in Toronto, I now attend the University of Windsor for my degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. If you want to chat about nerd culture (in any form really), or ask me questions about my articles, writing, or hobbies feel free to shoot me an email.
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