Halloween or Hallowe’en (/ˌhæləˈwin,-oʊˈin,ˌhɒl-/; a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening”), also known as All Hallows’ Eve, is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It initiates the triduum of Hallowmas, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.
According to many scholars, All Hallows’ Eve is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, with possible pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic Samhain. Other academics maintain that it originated independently of Samhain and has solely Christian roots. […]
Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while “some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain”, which comes from the Old Irish for “summer’s end”. […]
Samhain/Calan Gaeaf marked the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year. Like Beltane/Calan Mai, it was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits or fairies (the Aos Sí) could more easily come into our world and were particularly active. […] The Aos Sí were both respected and feared, with individuals often invoking the protection of God when approaching their dwellings. At Samhain, it was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiatedto ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink, or portions of the crops, were left for the Aos Sí. The souls of the dead were also said to revisit their homes. Places were set at the dinner table or by the fire to welcome them. The belief that the souls of the dead return home on one night or day of the year seems to have ancient origins and is found in many cultures throughout the world. In 19th century Ireland, “candles would be lit and prayers formally offered for the souls of the dead. After this the eating, drinking, and games would begin”. Throughout the Gaelic and Welsh regions, the household festivities included rituals and games intended to divine one’s future, especially regarding death and marriage. Nuts and apples were often used in these divination rituals. Special bonfires were lit and there were rituals involving them. Their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers, and were also used for divination. It is suggested that the fires were a kind of imitative or sympathetic magic – they mimicked the Sun, helping the “powers of growth” and holding back the decay and darkness of winter.