origins of halloween

Origins of Halloween Notes

Here is the Origins of Halloween notes from our podcast episode. We hope you enjoy the history and stories from around the world about this holiday.

All Hallow’s Eve, more commonly known now as Halloween, has been around for a thousand years. Just not in the form that we would recognize today. Once seen as a pagan religious observance, the religious trappings slowly faded away. Now we are left with a holiday for dressing up. Also, an excuse to go door-to-door, asking for treats and eventually struggling against the dreaded sugar high and crash. Join us as we discuss the origins of Halloween.

All Hallow’s Eve itself was first created as All Saint’s Day. This was most likely in the year 609 AD. Though the official day and year he created the observance has been lost to time. Pope Boniface the Fourth declared the holiday to be celebrated on May 13th.

He did other things during his 7 years as the Pope. But the poor man had a lot on his plate, given that famine, plague, and some natural disasters were happening. He also had a schism of monks not only speaking heresy against church doctrine, but those same monks were cooperating with invaders of the Byzantine Empire.

Today he is considered a Saint. Though no one but the Catholics and some dusty scholars likely remembers who he was. Nor is it remembered why he was honored with Sainthood.

All Saint’s Day vs Samhain

All Saint’s Day was created as a day of remembrance. Where all Catholics honored the saints of the church, both those that were known and unknown. It was during the reign of Pope Gregory the Third somewhere between 731-741 AD that the day of observance moved to November 1st. This was likely a substitute for what the Church saw as pagan worship and replaced it with Christian worship.

What pagan holiday, you ask? Well, the Irish Celts held their yearly festival called Samhain (SAH-win). Samhain (SAH-win) would be celebrated on November 1st, at least by the current calendar. It would likely have lasted for three days.

It was believed that on Samhain (SAH-win) that the souls of the dead would return home. But not in the colorful and honor-filled nod to our ancestors that Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrates. Rather where the souls that come to call could be loving ancestors or harmful spirits there to haunt and torment you.

For this day, people would dress up in costumes and light bonfires to confuse and ward off evil spirits. After all, if your ghostly visitors bent on causing misery found a witch or a goblin hanging out at the house rather than you, well, you’d probably have felt that would scare them off as well.

This was back in the age of horse and cart. Where storytelling or singing was the main form of entertainment. Today kids don’t think twice about popping in a blood-and-gore zombie flick or blowing heads off of everything they find in a video game.

We’re pretty desensitized in this age.

Samhain Celebration

While evil ghouls and ghosts were frightening things, Samhain (SAH-win) was an opportunity to revel, with celebrations flourishing across Ireland. Samhain (SAH-win) celebrated the year’s division of the lighter spring and summer months from the darker days of fall and winter.

Do you think modern-day man created huge festivals like Burning Man? Think again.
Every home would smother their household fires. Also, a huge bonfire would be started in earthwork pits on a hill outside of town. Pits so large they can still clearly be seen today. Livestock would be slaughtered and cast into a section of the fire used for cooking. Food of all sorts would be prepared. Both for the living and the dead. With the food, the dead never managed to eat being shared with those less well-off.

Who Started Samhain

The Celts had been holding Samhain (SAH-win) festivals for around a thousand years before Popes Boniface and Gregory started messing with it, and they knew how to celebrate.
However, there is evidence that perhaps Samhain (SAH-win) even predates the Celts. The Celts first arrived in Ireland nearly 2500 years ago. But there is an earthen work pit in Ireland, on the Hill of Tara, that has been dated to nearly 5000 years ago that, while now growing grass for sheep to graze in, is still cut deep into the earth.

So there are thoughts then that Samhain (SAH-win) was actually started by the Druids?

It’s not known for certain, as history was passed down via storytelling from the period. Druidic lore consisted of a large number of verses. These verses would be committed to memory which could take up to twenty years to master.

So essentially getting a higher education took much longer to obtain than today. Sounds like we have it easy now as compared to the Druid. And we don’t even know what it was they taught. It was Christian clerics in the sixteenth century that began transcribing key points of the Druidic beliefs from oral into something actually written down, but there are no actual verses that are known to have survived, not even in translation.

Given how faulty memory can be, there could have been a lot of information lost by the time scholars started writing them down. Anyone who has ever played the game of telephone has seen that for themselves.

The Celts or the Druids?

So do we know for sure whether it was the Druids who were the originators of Samhain (SAH-win)? Or was it the Celts? There are certainly some good indications of it being the Druids. But scholars still go back and forth on this due to the lack of written information. It’s really a technicality anyway, as the Druids are considered Celts for the most part. They spoke a dialect derived from the same language. Yet the Druids were part of the Gallic society. These were farmers and shepherds rather than the more war-like Celts that took over.

We should probably clarify the difference between the Celts and Druids. While Druids bring up imagery of magic and wizardry, in ancient times the Druid was a much broader definition. The area that covered England, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, and Ireland the Celts called the Pretanic Islands. This would have been around 1200 BC during the Iron Age.

Celts take over the UK

The British Celts had just begun to settle in Ireland. Given that they weren’t known to be pacifists, odds are that it was more of an invasion, rather than a quiet migration. In fact, the British Celts, having discovered Iron and how to work with it were superior in war, as the rest of the world was still working with Bronze, a metal of lesser strength.

A couple of hundred years after, they had completely obliterated the existing Irish culture. Also, they had either replaced it with their own or taken what they liked and adapted it for their own usage.

The Druids

Druids belonged to a much higher-educated class of the Gallic society they lived in. It included poets, doctors as well as spiritual leaders. Just because you fancied yourself a poet or a doctor didn’t mean you were a Druid. You would have to be accepted by the group for initiation, spend up to twenty years learning your lessons, and graduate by crawling into a cave to be reborn in the light of day.

That’s right, you earned your place in Druidic society by literally sitting in a dark cave all night by yourself, with no light, no books to read, or iPod to keep you entertained. You would sit there, not sleeping either, though maybe some did, but more likely meditating or reciting verses of all that knowledge you had finally committed to memory, and waiting for the morning light so you could crawl back out reborn from your old life.


And it wasn’t just any old day you could be reborn. There is a structure in county Meath, Ireland known as Newgrange. It is among the most famous prehistoric sites in the world. In fact, this entire area is filled with a variety of important archeological sites. There is a mound that was discovered in the 17th century by men seeking stone to build with. At first, they thought they had discovered a cave. Because some dirt covering the mound had slipped over the centuries and blocked part of the opening. In 1975 it was fully excavated and has since mostly been restored to its original condition.
Surprisingly, this 250-foot wide and 40-foot high mound takes up an acre of land. Inside the mound there is a long passage, running over 60 feet long that leads to a cross-shaped inner chamber.

This chamber was constructed so that at dawn on the shortest day of the year, which would be the Winter Solstice on December 21st, the rising sun would send a shaft of light directly down the passageway at dawn and lasts for less than 20 minutes.

The engineering skills of over 5000 years ago are impressive. This is due to the sunlight on the solstice filling the entire chamber with light. Also, the roof of this has remained pretty much intact and waterproof for all of that time. Even after all of these centuries, the Earth’s orbit has only affected this by a manner of minutes. Now, rather than lighting up with the first rays of the sun, the chamber is filled with light 4 ½ minutes after sunrise.

Birth of the Druid

It was through a variety of caves and man-made mounds such as these that the Druid would be born to the world, acknowledged by his fellows and commoners as someone who would not only be seen as a spiritual leader, but also a legal authority or adjudicator. They were the lore-keepers and political advisors of the time. They were reportedly literate, however. It is believed that their very doctrine kept them from recording their vast knowledge in a written form.

Druids were so respected during their heyday that if they intervened between two armies they could stop the battle. Even Julius Caesar acknowledged their authority. However, over the years other Roman authorities would denounce the Druids for their use of human sacrifices. Sure, they used those convicted of serious crimes to sacrifice. But the Romans couldn’t stand that once they finally stopped enjoying the gladiator bloodbaths of the Coliseum fights and embraced Christianity.

All Hallows Eve

It is rather the pot calling the kettle black, isn’t it? But we’re getting off of topic here. After the Catholic Papal holiday was created and then moved, the day before their saintly celebrations were known as a day of preparation called All Hallows Eve. However, as the Irish began to migrate wanting a better life, they took their celebrations and traditions with them. This included Samhain (SAH-win). From Ireland, they migrated to the UK and France.

Rome, the Mediterranean, and a good chunk of Europe were hanging onto their saintly Catholic roots as best as they could. While the pagan holiday rapidly spread to the rest of the world through Irish immigration. In fact, the first American colonists in New England, Puritans, were forbidden to celebrate it for religious reasons. Even though two of their members were Irish. As more settlers began moving in, those in the southern colonies had no problem enjoying the holiday. It became wildly popular.
As the Irish moved, however, Samhain (SAH-win) itself slowly shifted. Now the All Hallows Eve name was in place. It eventually morphed into the now-familiar Halloween here in the States. Though it is still called by its older names in parts of the world.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the Irish and Scottish communities in the United States began reviving the old customs. They began disguising themselves for the autumnal celebration. A popular activity in America at that time was the carving of pumpkins, which naturally blended itself in.

Jack o’Lanterns and other Halloween Traditions

Ever wonder why we carve pumpkins? Some say it’s just one more thing to scare the ghouls from our door. But in Ireland and Scotland, there is a story for this: the myth of Stingy Jack. Jack was a man who played tricks on the devil. Well, upon his death, neither heaven nor hell wanted him. So the devil sent him off with nothing but a piece of coal to light his way. Jack made himself a lantern with that coal. He placed it in a carved-out turnip. It’s said he still roams the earth to this day ever since, still holding his lantern.

No one knows just when the tradition began of those going around in costume telling jokes. Nor the reciting poems, or performing tricks in exchange for a piece of fruit or other treats. But by 1950 trick or treating for candy became a boom for the candy companies throughout the United States.

It is still the biggest holiday here for candy sales. It even outstrips Easter. The Halloween holiday alone is estimated to make candy companies well over $9 billion dollars a year.


Some believe that the Hindu Diwali festival known as the Festival of Lights may have a common root somewhere back in time. Diwali marks the Hindu New Year just as the Celts considered Samhain their new year. Both festivals also occur around the same time of the year.

The ancient Celts and the Hindus both noted the declining strength of the sun. It was felt that fire, our closest thing to the fierce burning of the sun, was a way to assist the sun on its journey to darker days. Samhain (SAH-win) was created as the waning sun made the barrier between our world and that of the dead thin because the lord of the underworld no longer had to fear the flames of the sun, so he now walked upon the earth. Trailing behind him would follow the realm of the underworld. Ghosts, ghouls, and fairie folk.

Donn Firinne

Tales in Ireland speak of the Druids who met invaders called the Milesians (Mill-ah-see-ens). The Milesians made their way to the Hill of Tara long before the British Celts. These invaders were advised to return to their ships by the Druids. Also, to sail off the shore to the length of nine waves. Their leader, a man called Donn Firinne (Don Fur-Eeen), returns to his ships but does not sail out to sea. His intended invasion upsets one of the Irish goddesses, who punishes them by sending a great storm. Donn and his followers drowned when their ships broke to pieces. The Druids took Donn’s body, which had washed up on shore out to a small rocky island off the western coast.

As he was the first of what would be many who tried to invade Ireland, Donn somehow became elevated in their eyes to the god of the dead. As such, the place of his burial became known as the house of Donn. The Hill of Tara, a sacred site of the druids, marked the solstice. Its entrance is in alignment with the setting sun on the day of Samhain (SAH-win). Coincidentally, it also aligns with the house of Donn.

So the Druids and the Gauls of Ireland were familiar with their god of the dead personally? That’s the story. Though it comes from the fragments that Christian scholars wrote down thousands of years later. There are also several different versions of who Donn was and what he meant to Ireland. In a 9th-century poem, he was a son of Ireland. Whose dying wish was that all his descendants would gather to him after their deaths.

The House of Donn

Oddly enough, there is a small and rocky islet to the west of Ireland that does resemble a burial mound. It even has a natural tunnel that runs through it. Which allows the sea to pass through, just as if it were the opening to a burial mound. Modern maps call it Bull Island. Even today the tale is remembered that the souls of the dead depart westward over the sea with the setting sun. It was said that the souls of sinners visit the house of Donn before going to hell. They give their blessing as they go, to Donn’s soul, which still lives there. The righteous souls only see the house of Donn from afar and are not hindered on their journey into heaven.

In the county of Limerick, it is said that Donn appears as a phantom horseman on a white horse. He is associated with the weather. The boom of thunder and the crashing of lightning are Donn Firinne (Fur-eeeen) riding his horse through the sky. If clouds appeared over the hill it meant he was gathering them together to make rain. He is said to appear and warn away those who would interfere with his hill. On the western coast of the county, Clare Donn is out on the dunes. He is often encountered as a night horseman.

Fires of Samhain and Trick or Treating

Regardless of who he once was, the fires of Samhain (SAH-win) would aid the weakening sun in keeping Donn, Lord of the Dead, at bay. No doubt as many of the weak and infirm would die with the cold winter descending. Especially during years of famine, was seen as proof that the lord of the dead walked the earth. The dampening of all household fires would be so that the revelers could then relight them at the close of Samhain (SAH-win). They used firebrands taken from the great bonfire, thus giving protection to its inhabitants throughout the winter.

If the ghouls were not appeased by the sacrifices of food at Samhain, then they could wreak havoc. Thus, why do children now say “trick or treat” when going door-to-door? With the trick being some simple and harmless prank should they not be treated with a tasty treat? A gift of food not appreciated, could encourage the wrath of the spirits, or in this case, the trick-or-treaters.

Some tricks are not very nice. In fact, we should probably thank our lucky stars that, with supply being what it is and the cost of everything rising, odds are pretty low that your home will be toilet-papered or pelted with eggs like it could have been in the past!

Halloween Today

But let’s take a look at Halloween itself as it is today. Children now dress up in disposable outfits and go door to door essentially mugging households under threat for sugar. Which, while it’s since been proven it doesn’t really rot your teeth, can definitely add pounds to their little waistlines and diabetes in the future. Adults now have the option of pretty much anything they can think of wearing. These costumes have been turned into a sexy outfits- whether it makes sense or not.

But that’s just in everyday normal America. What about elsewhere? How have other areas adapted the holiday to their own liking? Let’s discuss that.

First, let’s just stick with some parts of the United States. Back in the 1950s, when trick or treating was hitting its stride here, some areas actually saw children collecting donations for UNICEF. Honestly, not a bad thing to take donations for charity. Though that has since changed to UNICEF now holding fundraisers rather than asking the trick-or-treaters to do it for them.

Did you know in some of the Midwestern states, especially in the areas around St. Louis and Des Moines kids actually have to tell a horrible joke in order to be handed the candy? No idea why. But if you are moving to Iowa or Missouri you’d better pick your kid up a book of knock-knock jokes.

In Detroit, Devil’s Night or Mischief Night takes place on the night before Halloween. It is supposed to be for harmless pranks. But during the 70s and 80’s a lot of old derelict buildings were burned down. The practice is pretty much defunct now, and it’s probably for the best.

Halloween in Other Parts of the World

But enough about America- where else is Halloween or All Hallows Eve celebrated? You would think perhaps Romania would be superstitious, but Transylvania hosts Halloween parties and street festivals. The rest of the country doesn’t really celebrate it though. Mostly, though, it’s for the tourists who visit. These tourists are usually looking for a spooky time hunting down Dracula at the castle of Vlad the Impaler.

Spain celebrates by eating chestnuts during the Halloween season, as they are just coming into the season. They also make a delicious treat called Saint’s Bones. It gets its name from white marzipan cookies with a custard yellow filling. Rather than Halloween though, they host Fiesta de los Tosantos, or Fiesta de los Mercados, or Festival of the Merchants on October 31st in Cadiz. San Sebastian hosts an annual Horror and Fantasy Film Festival that evening. All Souls Day is celebrated, but for All Hallows Eve, in Spain, they do dress up as spooky characters. None of the superhero or pop culture-style costumes are often popular here in the States.

Thailand really only celebrates in the larger cities, like Bangkok. The villages do not like to celebrate as much for fear of angering the spirits. Haiti and other voodoo communities hold a Festival of the Ancestors. They journey to their ancestors’ burial places and drink a rum that has been infused with chili peppers. During the procession to leave food and drink offerings for their ancestors, beings known as Iwa. Iwa is a group of spirits created by the Supreme God Bondye. They support the needs of the living, as he himself is unknowable and unreachable. The Iwa make their presence known by possessing participants. The possessed person may sing, dance, speak or provide healing.

Festival of Cows

Nepal doesn’t celebrate Halloween itself. But they do host a Festival of Cows between August and September to remember their loved ones that year. This isn’t Halloween-like at all, but it’s an interesting way to honor the dead. Families who have lost a relative are required to participate in a procession through Kathmandu led by a cow. If one isn’t available, a young boy dresses as one. It is thought that the cow will assist the deceased on their way to heaven. While this sounds sad, the festival is actually one of dancing, singing, mirth, and laughter.

Wales and Lithuania

In Wales, the people carve pumpkins into the shape of dragons in honor of their famous heraldic symbol. For them, being part of the original Pretanic Islands meant having a Samhain-like (SAH-win) tradition of celebrating what is translated as Spirit Night. I’m sticking to the English translation on this one as I would completely butcher the Welsh pronunciation.

Spirit Night is now celebrated much as it is in America. Houses are decked out in spooky decorations, children trick-or-treating, and parties. Bobbing for apples remains a popular game from ancient times. Also, they play hiding the harvest mare, which is a little horse made from cornstalks. To celebrate the end of the harvest a special meal used to be eaten. It consisted of vegetables roasted over a roaring fire. Often it included carrots, parsnips, potatoes, turnips, leeks, peas, milk, and butter. Though other items could be interspersed within that had been abundant that year. The meal was meant to keep evil spirits at bay, and sometimes would include a wedding ring added before serving. It was said that the lucky person who found the ring in their dish would soon marry.

In Lithuania, it is believed the year is divided into two halves. The light and the dark. And where they meet is October 31st. Instead of dressing up children used to have play fights pretending one person is the light half and the other is the dark. Halloween, such as we see it, was only introduced to the country after the independence proclamation of 1990. Since that time, thanks to Hollywood movies and other western influences, Halloween is rapidly gaining popularity amongst the younger generations.

Japan and Korea

Japan and Korea didn’t use to celebrate in October, but rather in August, but it keeps in theme. In Japan is the Festival of Lanterns. People light a paper lantern for their dead relatives and allow it to illuminate the way should they be lost. Koreans do the same, with many also taking food to their ancestors’ tombs to thank them.

Japan now has embraced Halloween, though it is generally for adults and not kids. There is no trick-or-treating, but there is a huge Halloween parade in Tokyo. It usually features somewhere around 4,000 people who applied months in advance to be a part. Cosplay and parties are huge. Partying has been known to start up to weeks before the holiday actually arrives.
It was Tokyo Disneyland that first impressed upon Japan our Halloween customs in 2000 with Osaka’s Universal Studios Japan following suit. It took a few years to catch on with the locals. In fact, as recent as 2009 foreigners riding the train in both Tokyo and Osaka in costume used to upset the locals. So much so that protestors appeared at Tokyo’s Shinjuku (shin-jew-coo) station with signs. This was to show their outrage over their commute being taken over one day a year. The foreigners began treating the trains like their own private party lounge and were generally disruptive.

Japan still celebrates the fall. Though it’s more enveloped in Halloween than it once was. However, the trappings we tie to the holiday aren’t all embraced. As Japan’s pumpkins are green on the outside, it has become wildly popular to decorate with imported orange pumpkins for the holiday.


China’s Feast of the Hungry Ghosts happens in August. The entire month is considered ghost month, in which ancestors are allowed out from the lower realm or underworld. During the festivities, fires and lanterns are lit to guide dead relatives. Also, food is placed in front of their portraits and often torched on the bonfires.

Just about anything a person feels will bring comfort and succor to their dead. This can include paper money, which will often be burnt in the offering.

Often the items, however, are symbolic and created from papier mache. Also, a form of banknote made from joss paper. It is printed to resemble legal money and is thought to hold value in the afterlife. Items to be burned can be paper houses, cars, servants, and televisions to please the ghosts. Rituals are performed to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. In some areas, live performances are held, with the front rows empty so the ghosts can sit there.

Other Asian Traditions

Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan hold similar festivals. Other Buddhist nations such as Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Thailand may hold their various festivals at other times of the year, but all seem to adhere to similar beliefs.

Scotland and Ireland

In Scotland, bobbing for apples is a tradition that stems back to the Celts who held the apple as sacred. It is said that if you peel an apple in one long strip you are to save it for Samhain (SAH-win) Eve. On that one evening, should you toss the peel over your shoulder, the peel will fall into the shape of your destined spouse’s first initial.
Sausage has been a traditional Scottish Samhain food since ancient times, though the Witchcraft Act of 1735 made it illegal to eat pork pastries on Halloween. The act was repealed in the 1950s, so sausage rolls are pretty much a given on the menu wherever you go in the country. And the Beltane Fire Society still hosts a fire festival every year in Edinburgh.

Heading back to Ireland there is a tradition called Barmbrack, which is similar to the King Cake at Mardi Gras. The Barmbrack is cake children eat full of little charms meant to predict their futures, depending on what they find in their slice.
Dublin hosts a Samhain parade still every year, and the item on pretty much every menu you will find will include colcannon, which is mashed potatoes mixed with kale or cabbage.

The UK

In the UK there is a tradition amongst young adults to stand in a darkened room and stare into their reflection in a mirror. The face of the person they will marry is said to appear, though if you see a skeleton it means you will die before you can find the right one. This means nothing really, as plenty of people choose to live long lives without ever getting married. Not everyone needs a piece of paper to fall in love and be together for only a night or for years. We admit that this one has been around for ages in many parts of the world, but apparently adding in the spookiness of Halloween has apparently taken off there.

The UK actually inspired America’s love of carving pumpkins, but in the UK they carve beets and turnips as it’s hard to grow pumpkins across large parts of Europe. Really, a lot of England stopped celebrating All Saint’s Day when Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation began to spread. A new ritual, having nothing to do with Halloween or Samhain was formed that falls on November the 5th. Guy Fawkes Day. Effigies of the notorious English traitor who was executed on that day are burned throughout the country, bonfires are lit and fireworks are set off. Grim, but it sounds like quite the party.


In Austria, the kids don’t dress up, trick or treat or eat lots of candy. Instead, they enjoy All Souls Week leaving a light on throughout the night and putting out bread and water for their ancestors. All Souls Day itself for Austrians is spent thinking about loved ones who have passed away, and many visit the cemetery and light candles.

I hope a lot of these places take the bread their ancestors don’t eat and feed the ducks at the local pond. That’s a fun activity for everyone

A Few Other Worldly Traditions

Cambodia has its own celebration in September when they honor their dead by traveling to local temples, listening to the monks give speeches, and listening to appropriate karmic music.

A fun, but odd tradition in Germany takes place around All Saints Day. Throughout that week they keep their knives hidden away so they won’t accidentally injure any spirits that may be visiting. Many do also go visit the graves of their relatives on this day.

The Czech Republic instead celebrates its Commemoration of All the Departed. While they will visit the graves of loved ones, leaving flowers and lit candles to light the way for departed souls, they will also put chairs around the fireplace so they can talk with any ghosts that may be visiting.


In Italy, bean-shaped cakes are cooked alongside a feast for their departed relatives. Bonfires are lit until dawn, and, in parts of Italy, on the Night of Purgatory, pumpkins are carved and left in front of houses to drive the souls of the damned away from the banquet, while good souls are allowed to pass. Children who trick or treat ask for sweets and small offerings for the souls of the dead, and in some regions, they carry pumpkins carved to serve as a personification of a dead loved one.

Baked cookies called Dead Man’s Bones are said to be delicious but are very hard to chew. In Sicily, people hide their cheese graters for Halloween, because in the past it was said that the dead would come and grate off the feet of all those who misbehaved!


In Australia, if a house participates in Halloween they hang an orange balloon outside! The American tradition of going door to door asking for candy is still not hugely celebrated, but it is gaining in popularity. There apparently are a few reasons why this hasn’t become mainstream in Australia yet, but it’s mostly due to the supernatural themes around it, as well as reservations about allowing children to go to strangers’ homes to request treats. What has caught on, however, is the costume parties and spooky decorations.

Portugal and Hungary

In Portugal, the children don’t dress up, but they do go from door to door on the morning of November 1st. Instead of saying trick or treat instead, they say “bread for God.” Then, they are given small toys, candy, or bread.

Hungary celebrates its Day of the Dead, where orphans get to join families and are given food, clothes, and toys.

Philippines and Columbia

In the Philippines, after decorating the graves of their relatives, people knock on strangers’ doors, asking for gifts as they sing a traditional song. The homeowners will then give money or food to the singers, asking them to sing songs for their dead loved ones.

Some households will give children a Filipino delicacy of sweet rice cakes. During the night of October 31st, items such as clothing, plants, or pots will “mysteriously disappear” from the house, only to be discovered outside the next morning. It is supposed that this is the doing of souls who have visited in the night.

In Columbia, there is a zombie march that takes place, where over 40,000 people dress up as zombies and roam the streets. Many people, however, do not celebrate Halloween due to the heavy voodoo presence in the Caribbean. While some are superstitious, even those who don’t believe still won’t release their black cats outside during the holiday, as there is the unproved belief that black cats may be snatched for sacrifice.

Day of the Dead

In Mexico and other Latin countries, the Day of the Dead begins on November 1st and ends on the 2nd. This holiday has actually begun being more popular in the United States as well as other countries around the world, as it is a celebration honoring the dead. Offerings are set upon an altar, alongside family photos. The altar includes favorite foods, cherished personal items as well as Day of the Dead flowers.
The flowers, of which there are several that are popular, each have their own meaning. For example, Marigolds attract souls to the altar and help the dead to celebrate their lives rather than be bitter about their death. Families have even been known to create a path of marigolds from their homes to the altar. The lovely Cockscomb symbolizes the blood of Christ, and the reason to rejoice. Chrysanthemums symbolize peace, beauty, and sympathy. Gladiolas represent remembrance and faithfulness. The white variety of hoary stock is for innocence, especially for the death of children. Baby’s Breath signifies purity, love, and innocence.

Did you know why the Day of the Dead actually takes two days? It’s because the first day is specifically dedicated to children who passed away and it’s called Dia de los Angelitos, or Remembering the Children. The second day is Dia de los Difuntos, which is also known as All Souls Day.

Guatemala also observes the Day of the Dead, with several of the larger cities hosting a giant kite festival to honor their ancestors. Kites are giant and brightly colored, made by each family using local materials. The kites are then taken to the cemeteries where their ancestors are buried and flown. This tradition actually goes back nearly 3000 years to the Mayan people!

The Wiccan New Year

Like in the days of old, there are still Samhain (SAH-win) festivals and those who follow those teachings. We’re not talking about the original Druids back from the dead or the celebrations that still take place in Ireland, but a modern-day Samhain (SAH-win) that has become hijacked and tweaked in a sense to become the Wiccan New Year.

Wicca is a modern pagan religion first developed in England during the 1900s combining a variety of pre-Christian religions and cultures which became mainstream in the 1950s. There is no real central person in authority, so it is a practice that grows and evolves over time, who all basically adhere to the statement “if it harm none, do what you will”. What forms the religion for one person may not completely hold for another, though all Wicca is a nature-based religion. Typically, Wicca is tied to witchcraft, though not all modern witches consider themselves Wiccans.

So how does a Wiccan Samhain (SAW-in) look? Dancing, feasting, building altars to honor their ancestors, and taking nature walks are often included. Modern-day altars include apples, pumpkins, or other fall crops in order to symbolize the harvest, skulls or skeletons are placed on the altar to represent the spirits of the dead.

Photos of deceased family members are also added, and some Wiccans will bake loaves of a Samhain (SAH-win) bread (it’s a buttermilk soda bread) for their altars in order to feed visiting spirits. Some Wiccans will cast a circle and think of their deceased loved ones, and as a family, they will share stories of their ancestors. Some will simply visit the cemetery instead.

Modern Samhain Observance

While some modern Samhain observances may include a party-like atmosphere, the Wicca consider honoring the dead as a serious religious practice rather than a make-believe reenactment of Samhain’s of old. One circle sanctuary site we found offered that you should also decorate the home with Samhain seasonal symbols and in the colors orange and black. That you should place autumnal wreaths on the door and decorate them with pumpkins, gourds, cornstalks, acorns, and apples. You should also set candles in cauldrons.

Feasting should include a place setting for the deceased either at your table or a nearby altar. Offer a bit of everything being eaten or drunk. Invite your ancestors to come to dine with you. Your feast should be held in silence and after the feast, you are to take the contents of the plate and cup you set for the dead outdoors to a nature setting and leave it as an offering.

It is suggested that you reflect over the last year, reviewing journals and planners as needed, and meditate on them. Write down your reflections and meditations. Perhaps you should select an area of your home or life to renovate. Release what isn’t needed, reorganize and transform.

You could do bonfire magic by kindling either an actual bonfire or using your fireplace or even starting a small fire in a cauldron. Write down a habit you wish to end and cast it into the Samhain flames as you imagine release.

Time to Reflect

Use your tarot, runes, or scry to seek divination and guidance on the year to come. Call upon nature’s sacred forms that are associated with Samhain and ask them to aid you. And join in a group ritual in your area to connect with others.

Yeah, modern-day Samhain (SAW-win) is not exactly for the faint of heart or the Christian in spirit, but if it works for you then who are we to fault it? So whether you celebrate Samhain (SAW-win) the traditional way or the new way we wish you well. For those who will be honoring their ancestors, may we add our prayers to yours, and for the Halloween fans, happy haunting.

Origins of Halloween Podcast

Listen to the recording of the Origins of Halloween here.

Check out the replay on Youtube.

Origins of Halloween Notes Resources