We all know Halloween as that one time of year where we dress up in costumes, decorate our houses and knock on doors in exchange for candy. But Halloween hasn’t always been this commercialized – the origins of Halloween begin in Pagan culture. Recently I’ve been researching a lot about paganism, and no, it has nothing to do with black magic or Satanic worship as is often portrayed in media. Paganism has several branches including Wicca and Druidism but all stem from an alternative religion that reveres nature and nature- deities.
Paganism follows a series of season celebrations called the wheel of the year. Samhain is the celebration that occurs in the 31st of October in the Northern Hemisphere, and is a celebration of the autumn harvest that usually occurs at this time of year (an obvious link to the modern pumpkin iconography that we see). The end of October is also usually the end of the light half of the year and the days onwards begin to get much shorter, so Samhain is also a tradition to welcome in the dark part of the cycle. It is believed in Celtic and Pagan culture that at this time of year the veil between the spirit world and the physical world is the thinnest. This is where the ghost and spirit part of modern Halloween comes in, as it was believed this was one of only 2 dates in the year that the two different worlds could interact and communicate.
Samhain isn’t the only Pagan holiday, but it is the one that seems to have caught on the most. However, aspects of the pagan holidays Yule and Osteria can be seen in the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter respectively (tree decoration in Christmas is derived from Pagan tradition, as is the bunny and the egg during easter time.) One of the reasons Halloween may have caught on so much though is that the Samhain is often considered one of the most significant wheel of the year celebrations. One of the traditions often included preparing a feast of harvest food and bounty that would not be eaten by the living but would rather be prepared as an offering to deceased ancestors. This was considered a very special and sacred ritual as it was a time for grieving family members to metaphorically reunite with their loved ones.
Above all, Halloween is not an evil or Satan worshipping celebration as has often been suggested by Christianity. Originally, Samhain was a way of acknowledging the passing of the year, expressing gratitude for the autumn harvest, and honoring the dead. And whether or not you incorporate the original traditions into your Halloween, it is still a lovely excuse to have some fun and embrace your inner child in this modern world.