Halloween: Meaning, Origin, and Rituals

Halloween is also called “the ancient Samhain,” and it’s believed to be the time of year when the boundary between the spirit world and our world is at its thinnest. Today, once darkness falls, families gather and light up their pumpkin Jack-o’-lanterns. Little do they know that they’re repeating the ancient traditions of the deceased, and it signals the beginning of what this ancient tradition calls the “dark half” of the year.

Where It Originated

Today, Halloween is a celebration that is held annually in the western side of the world on October 31st. It’s the time where people would often purchase several pumpkins with their credit cards to carve. It begins in the evening, and most of the time, children wear masks and costumes, which were traditionally to be frightening like zombies, vampires, and other ghostly figures. Children wearing costumes would go from door to door to request treats for their “mischievous trick.”


Halloween isn’t only limited to costumes and “trick or treating.” Fun activities during Halloween include carving pumpkins, playing pranks, costume parties, and more.

Interestingly, Halloween is a shortened form of the phrase “All Hallows’ Evening.” It’s an echo of old Celtic harvest festivals during the time of pre-Christian Europe. Today, Halloween is observed in numerous countries around the world. It is the evening that comes before “All Hallows Day,” and it’s the day where the Christian religion remembers martyrs and saints. Moreover, this ritual and tradition coincide with the ancient tradition of Samhain.

Samhain & It’s Pagan Rituals

Samhain is the traditional festival that marked the changing of the seasons and the approach of winter. It’s a Gaelic festival, and there several important events that begin during the time of Samhain. Interestingly, most people would often bring their cattle back from the pastures.

They’d also slaughter livestock to prepare for the upcoming winter. Other traditions like lighting ritual bonfires are also done that would serve as protection and cleansing, which was used to mimic the sun and hold back the darkness to a certain degree.

It has its similarities with Halloween as Samhain occurred at a time where people believed that fairies or spirits were more likely to pass and visit into our world. Moreover, one’s deceased relatives played a central role in the ritual and tradition, where the connection between the living relative and the deceased was believed to be at its strongest during Samhain, and that the chance to communicate was at its all-time high.

Samhain is also the tradition where the souls of the ones who passed were thought to return to their homes. With this belief, people would often prepare feasts, and their places were set at tables to welcome them back home. Likewise, drinks and food were also offered to “unpredictable spirits” and fairies to ensure good health and good fortune for the family. Consider it as their ancient way of securing an insurance plan with the deceased and fairies.

Samhain’s Evolution

As we said, Samhain has been around for a long time in ancient culture. The idea of a soul returning to its home on a particular day is often repeated across several cultures around the world. One similar holiday held in Mexico is Dia de Muertos, and it’s held around the same time of the year in Mexico.

As the Church established its influence, Samhain saw change and metamorphosis due to the teachings of the Church. You could say that the Church deserves credit for helping shape Samhain into what it is today.

Samhain came a long way from special “soul cakes” in the 12th century into going door-to-door in costumes asking for treats, candies, and other sweety goodness. If you love pranks, then Samhain and Halloween are the perfect traditions for it as pranks during Samhain have been performed since 1736 in countries like Ireland and Scotland.

Controversies With Modern Practices

As we said, Samhain has changed through several centuries. Today, modern practices have seen their fair share of controversies. Despite the controversies that the holiday often faces, traditions like fortune-telling and divination have remained since the 19th century. Moreover, games are played while nuts and fruits are featured in various eating and drinking games.

One common aspect of Halloween is Halloween pumpkins. Spooky faces are then carved into these pumpkins, thus creating Jack-o’-lanterns. Candles are then placed and lit inside the carved pumpkins, which make lanterns look creepy to a certain degree. These lit pumpkins also serve as a signal that a particular household observes and celebrates Halloween.

Though the holiday has been celebrated by many, some religions still refuse to participate. Some even believe that Halloween trivializes the Samhain holiday and that it has negative associations with various figures. It’s also been said to be an inappropriate tribute to paganism.

However, one can argue that modern Halloween celebrations have been heavily influenced by pop culture and commercialization. One could argue that modern Halloween and Samhain have their fair share of differences.