Thursday, 30 October 2008

Samháin and Halloween

Halloween was brought to the New World by Ulster settlers in the 1700s. Halloween has dual origins. The first being a pre-Christian Celtic feast which is associated with the Celtic New Year and second is a Christian celebration of saints. In Ireland and the British Isles, you will notice that the more Celtic an area, the more Halloween is observed and enjoyed. In fact, the closer you get to London people are more apt to skip Halloween and observe Guy Fawkes Day, which celebrates the execution of an English patriot who tried to blow up Parliament and not nearly as much fun as our Halloween.
Among the Gaelic and Cymreig Celts in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and the border areas of England, the Halloween traditions have been around for several thousand years making the holiday among the oldest in Europe. In Irish Halloween is known as Samháin (said Sow-win). The celebration dates to pre Christian times, but it has never been remotely linked to the Christian concept of the Devil or evil. That bit was made up in Hollywood and Madison Avenue, where come to think of it a lot of pseudo history comes from. Sadly today, because of the Hollywood pseudo history there are those that mistakenly believe that Halloween is a dark holiday and have urged parents to not allow their children to participate. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The real Celtic holiday marked the beginning of the year and there was a belief that spirits, ghosts, and the Fairy Folk could easily cross over into our world as this happened. The costumes and masks are worn to ward off evil spirits, not to celebrate them. The Jack o' Latern also serves this purpose. One dresses up in a scary costume to scare the bee-jeepers out of goblins. Another aspect of Halloween is the end of the harvest and the giving of gifts of food. These two old traditions still make up the basis for our contemporary Halloween festivities.
The Gaels in Ireland and Scotland had a very easy and natural transition into Christianity, it was almost an evolving of their belief system and naturally enough they also incorporated Samháin into their Christian beliefs.
In anno domini 835 Pope Gregory IV changed the celebration for martyrs, and later all saints, from 13 May to 1 November, thus All Saints Eve fell on 31 October, on Samháin, which was then also known as All Saint’s Eve. From that date onward Halloween had very Christian roots attached to it. The following day was a Holy Day of obligation were in the mass all saints, even those not canonized, were remembered. Saints and holy people are called ‘hallowed’ in old English, and All Hallow’s Evening is what we now call Halloween.
Now because the Irish and Scottish Diaspora sent so many to Canada, the USA, Australia, etc. the celebration of Halloween, or Samháin spread to those lands settled by these Celtic people. To me Halloween has always been link in my mind with the harvest festivals and the sheer joy and wonder of Halloween night. That otherworldliness that is so exciting for children and the better sort of adults alike. Halloween is also a time of awareness of our spiritual side and of the spiritual world.
Halloween is a wonderful time, a tradition of Celtic Ireland and Scotland, and also one linked with the early Christian Church. Let the little ones dress up in their scary costumes, no clowns and ballerinas please, remember you are trying to scare away evil spirits and spooks, not attract them.
Trick Or Treat from the Ulster Heritage Magazine!!!

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