The Birth of Halloween: A Look Into the Ancient Roots of a Beloved Holiday (Video)

We LOVE Halloween. And if you're like us and the millions of other's who celebrate it, chances are you're gearing up for a weekend of dress up, candy, scary movies and fun with friends. But do you know the history behind this anticipated night? We thought we'd take a moment to look at the holiday's ancient Celtic roots. 

Halloween dates back at least 2000 years to Celtic Ireland, when pagan communities celebrated Samhain, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, or the "darker half" of the year.  In essence, it was the division of the lighter half of the year (summer) and the darker half (winter). 

At Samhain, it was thought that the veil between this world and the afterlife was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. 

It was tradition for each family to honor their ancestors and invite them into the home while keeping harmful spirits at bay. People wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves as frightening, mischievous specters to ward off bad energies and avoid harm. Bonfires and food also played a large part in the festivities. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into a communal fire, and each household in turn lit their hearths from this large, communal fire. Food was prepared for the living and the dead, and the food cooked for the ancestors (who were obviously not around to eat it) was then shared with the less fortunate.

Christianity adopted this tradition of honoring the dead into the Christian calendar as All Saints' Day (All Hallows') on November 1st, followed by All Souls' on November 2nd. Festive costumes and masks were still donned to scare off harmful spirits, a practice that is ever-vibrant in today's Halloween celebrations.

The Irish emigrated to America in great numbers during the 19th century, especially around the time of Ireland's terrible famine during the 1840's. The Irish carried their Halloween tradition to America, where it became one of the major holidays of the year. 

Hill Tlachtga, in Boyne Valley, is considered the birthplace of Halloween -  the location of the Great Fire Festival which began on the eve of Samhain. 

Tlachtga: Birthplace of Halloween

Tlachtga: Birthplace of Halloween

The entrance passage to the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara is aligned with the rising sun around Samhain. The Mound of the Hostages is 4,500 to 5000 years old, suggesting that Samhain might have been celebrated long before the first Celts arrived in Ireland about 2,500 years ago.

Mount of Hostages

Mount of Hostages

Over time, Samhain, All Saints, and All Souls day merged to create the modern Halloween

Since the later 20th century, Celtic neopagans and Wiccans have observed Samhain, or something based on it, as a religious holiday.

Check out the following documentary entitled Spiorad na Samhna- Origins of Halloween for more on the fascinating history of this holiday.

Authors: Kanta Barrios and Nate Morgan