Halloween traces its origins back to the ancient Celtic festival, Samhain. More than 2,000 years ago, the Celts lived in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France. They celebrated their new year on November 1. The harvest was complete and they would be settling into the long, dark months of winter.
The Celts also believed that the night before the new year held a mystical blurring of the boundary between the living and the those dead. They would extinguish their own hearth fires and join together for a large sacred bonfire. The often dressed up in costume and told each other fortunes, enhanced by the spirits of those gone before. Once the festival was over, they relit their hearth fires from the communal bonfire. The new year was begun.
The Roman Empire reached the Celts around the middle of the first century. As with all cultures that intermarry and mix, traditions morph to reflect the blending of cultures. Festivals take on additional practices and meanings. The Roman festival Feralia, which honored the passing of the dead was held in October and, over the course of several hundred years was blended into Samhain.
Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Roman Pantheon to all martyrs May 13, 609 and established Roman Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day. Pope Gregory III expanded the feast to include all saints as well as all martyrs and moved the date to November 1. By the 9th century, the influence of Christianity had penetrated the Celtic lands and gradually supplanted the ancient Celtic tradition of Samhain. Soon the festival began to be called All-hallow’s Eve and eventually Halloween.
Halloween is now established as a commercial holiday, at least in the U.S. and All Soul’s Day is mostly relegated to the first Sunday worship service of November. I think the ancients had a better grasp on the natural world. There’s a rhythm and cycle to seasons and life. There’s something to remembering and recalling the lives of those who’ve gone before that connects us and grounds us over the course of time.
Those who are transitioning between this life and the next, often talk about who they see as they bridge leaving this life and arriving in the next. I like to refer to it as the great homecoming; we’re greeted by those who’ve gone home ahead of us and are now awaiting our arrival.
The boundary between this life and death is a sacred, hallowed place. We’d do well to consider All-hallows Eve.