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What is Halloween?

Well Halloween is an annual holiday celebrated each year on October 31, and Halloween 2019 occurs on Thursday, October 31. It originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. Over time, Halloween evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, festive gatherings, donning costumes and eating sweet treats.


The better explanation of Halloween is its difference to Samhain? (Irish Gaelic for "summer's end." The standard Irish pronunciation is "sow-in" with the "ow" like in "cow." Other pronunciations that follow with the many Gaelic dialects include "sow-een" "shahvin" "sowin" (with "ow" like in "glow"). The Scots Gaelic spelling is "Samhuin" or "Samhuinn.)

The easiest way to explain the difference is that it has to do with the date. The difference between Halloween and Samhain is the way the date is chosen. Halloween is based on a specific date on the calendar. Samhain, is based on nature’s cycle.

Halloween falls on October 31. It’s a holiday, not to be confused with a “holy day”. Holy days are days meant for reflection and celebrating.


Halloween got its start because of the proximity to a holy day, or holy days which began on November 1. Hence the name Halloween, short for All Hallows evening. November 1 is the feast of All Hallows or All Martyrs, the beginning of Allhallowtide, a time set aside for remembering the dead in Western Christianity.  November 2 is All Souls Day, a day for remembering all the dead. In early Christianity it was commonplace for a vigil to be held the evening before a holy day, and so Halloween, a holy evening was born.

An interesting side note:  The original date of All Hallows was actually, May 13. This date was chosen because of the dedication of the Parthenon in Rome, to coincide with a Roman celebration of the dead. About a hundred years later it was moved to November 1, the same date associated with Samhain.

By this point, Samhain celebrations and rituals reflected in one way or another the traditions which we associate with Halloween. It was the American influence that later grouped the rituals and beliefs of the various cultures into a Hallmark package.

In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. When the Church placed the holy day on top of these celebrations, it connected all of the celebrations together in a theological way to make Christian sense of pagan beliefs. Rather than force them to give up beliefs and practices, they instead give their beliefs a Christian origin story. They hoped, that over time the masses would come to believe more in the Christian origin and forget the pagan. As you can see this is why we have pagan celebrations during Christian holidays.

The Church added a fixed date on the calendar on a seasonal holiday based on observation of nature.

A common understanding in early Samhain and Halloween beliefs is that on October 31, the veil between the planes is at its thinnest. It was a common belief that all the souls of those who had died during the year had to wait until the 31st to slip into the next plane.

But as the veil was lifted, the dead could come back into this world as well, visiting people and places they had been to in their past life.

Understand that most of these followers were illiterate, small town, country folk. Calendars weren’t displayed on their fridges. So, they did not know when the date of October 31st was. TO figure out the actual date they looked to the stars and the seasons. A cross quarter date is the day which falls halfway between an equinox and a solstice, and Halloween is roughly one of those. Computing these days would be relatively easy based on observations of the sun and stars, and it’s perfectly logical to believe that this cross quarter date, October 31, would be the Samhain that the ancients celebrated.

So, it would make sense to them that this would be the evening when the veil between this world and the next would be lifted.

Except the year doesn’t actually last 365 days, and so over the years the calendar began to drift away from the actual seasons. So the calendar was changed, and the “leap year” was thrown in to keep things balanced. The result being that the Samhain, the cross quarter holiday, now falls on or about November 7.

So if you are sitting around on Halloween waiting for that visit from a long lost family member it probably won’t happen because you’re a week early.

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