Image of the celebration of Samhain

The Story of Halloween

How did our traditions of Hallowe'en begin? To understand where we are, we must understand where we came from. I will not tell you why we find Hallowe'en so appealing. If you are interested in exploring that a little more, I suggest you read Ray Bradbury's "The Halloween Tree." No, here you will read the historical tale of the origins of the day we now call Hallowe'en.


Our modern day of Hallowe'en began long ago among a people called the Celts. The Celts celebrated their annual harvest with an event they called "Samhain" meaning "summer's end."

For the people of that day the harvest was of life and death importance. The Celts lived mostly in cold climates and could not import food from warmer places as we do. The food the harvest provided them was, for the most part, all the food they would have to get them through the long cold winter months. It was all that stood between life and death for them.

So, much as we do at Thanksgiving, the Celts gave thanks for the life-giving bounty at Samhain. They would light a huge bonfire and dance around it and each home would take an ember from this fire back to their home to light their hearth, the fire that would heat their home and cook their food. The fire gave heat and warm - life, in oposition to the cold outside - death. Each home would also receive food to each to keep them through the winter.

It was pretty simple for the Celts. Summer was life, winter was death and the boundary between them was Samhain. So while Samhain was a celebration of the harvest, it also carried with it the fear of the impending cold and bleak winter months ahead.

So it was natural that they began to see Samhain as a day on which the boundaries between life and death, our world and other worlds, became thin and things crossed over. It was a night when the dead walked among the living again and not all of them were happy to be dead. Beings of ancient power wandered among us too; beings that could bring happiness, wealth and success as easily as misery, failure and death.

The easiest way to deal with the dead and the other creatures from beyond was to feed them. It was traditional for the Celts to leave out offerings of food and drink on Samhain for those that walked the dark on that holiest of nights. It was hoped that if their offering was accepted, then the faeries and the spirits of the deceased would bless their home. If they were not pleased, then the home might be cursed with death, lack of children, failure of crops or all it together.