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a festival that takes place on October 31

symbols of Halloween

The word "Halloween" is short for "Allhallows Evening," and it is so called because the next day, November 1, is a church festival called All Saints' Day.

The Celtic festival of Samhain is probably the source of most of the present-day Halloween celebrations. The Celts lived more than 2,000 years ago in what is now Great Britain, Ireland, and northern France. Their new year began on November 1. A festival that began the previous evening honored Samhain, the Celtic lord of death. The celebration marked the beginning of the season of cold, darkness, and decay. The Celts believed that Samhain allowed the souls of the dead to return to their earthly homes for this evening.

On the evening of the festival, the Druids, the priests and teachers of the Celts, ordered the people to put out their hearth fires. They then built a huge new year's bonfire of oak branches, which they considered sacred, on which they burned animals and crops as sacrifices. Then each family relit its hearth fire from the new year's fire. During the celebration, people often wore costumes made of animal heads and skins. They also told fortunes about the coming year by examining the remains of the animals that had been sacrificed.

The Romans conquered the Celts in A.D. 43 and ruled most of what is now Great Britain for about 400 years. During this period, two Roman autumn festivals were combined with the Celtic festival of Samhain. One of them, called Feralia, was held in late October to honor the dead. The other festival honored Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Apples probably became associated with Halloween because of this festival.

The Celts were converted to Christianity during the early 800's. The Catholic Church established All Saints' Day on November 1, and the Celts adapted many of their old customs to accomodate this Christian holy day.

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The Robinson Library >> Holidays and Festivals

This page was last updated on 08/10/2018.