The Celtic year begins at Samhain [pronounced sow-in]. It is divided into two seasons: the light and the dark, celebrating the light at Beltane on 1 May and the dark at Samhain on 1 November. Some believe that Samhain was the more important festival, since it marked the beginning of a new dark-light cycle. It is a time of death and birth, a time of change, where we leave our old life behind and pass out of the darkness into our new life. The Celts observed time as proceeding from darkness to light because they understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground.
The night of Samhain [in Irish, Oíche Shamhna and in Scots Gaelic, Oidhche Shamhna] is one of the principal festivals of the Celtic calendar, falling on 31 October – Halloween. It represents the final harvest. According to Celtic lore, Samhain is a time when the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead become thinner, at times even fading away completely, allowing spirits and other supernatural entities to pass between the worlds to socialize with humans. It is the time of the year when ancestors and other departed souls are especially honored. It is still the custom, in some areas, to set a place for the dead at the Samhain feast and to tell tales of the ancestors on that night. (Perhaps this is where ‘ghost’ stories came from.)
Bonfires played a large part in the festivities celebrated down through the last several centuries, and up through the present day in some rural areas. With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires. Each family then solemnly re-lit their hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together. Often two bonfires would be built side by side, and the people would walk between the fires as a ritual of purification. Sometimes the cattle and other livestock would be driven between the fires, as well.
When Christianization came to the Celtic people, the religious spin doctors of the day turned this ancient celebration of the changing of the seasons into a scary bedtime story of witches and goblins. This misguided belief still survives in various branches of Christianity today. The Celtic Samhain festival was converted to All Hallows’ Day on 1 November by All Souls’ Day on 2 November. Over time, the night of 31 October and the remnants of the festival dedicated to the dead came to be called All Hallow’s Eve which was eventually shortened to Hallowe’en (Hallow’s Evening) and today it’s Halloween.
Some of the customs and traditions of Halloween that we celebrate today were brought here by Irish and Scottish immigrants. One Irish custom is to bake a ring into a Barnbrack Cake. Each member of the family gets a slice and great interest is taken in the outcome as there is a piece of rag, a coin, and a ring in each cake. If you get the rag then your financial future is doubtful. If you get the coin then you can look forward to a prosperous year. Getting the ring is a sure sign of impending romance or continued happiness. Another custom popular one at parties is dunking for apples and coins: a portent for success and wealth. Even wearing costumes and masquerading as the souls of the dead came from our ancestors from the Celtic countries.
All the designers at PDW have set out some tasty treats for you and they’re scattered all over the store. Here’s just a few previews of the treats you can find to fill up your goodie bags! Click on the picture below to get started!
Here’s a wee lighthearted freebie for your Hallow’een treating…click here. And tell all your friends to come knock on my door to get their free treat, too!