Each fall, Halloween starts off the holiday season with season favorites such as jack-o-lanterns, candy apples and trick-or-treating. Although it’s inevitably one of the most fun and colorful holidays, Halloween has a deeper, more meaningful history than its bright and glossy image may suggest. In fact, it is a unique blend of Celtic and Christian beliefs, one that celebrates the remembrance of loved ones who have passed and touches on our ever-present wondering about the afterlife.
Originally known as the Celtic Samhain, the holiday celebrated the essential circle of human existence—life and death follow one another in a myriad of ways. In the fall, especially, this circle is underscored, while leaves turn and fall to the ground, we gather a final harvest of the summer’s growth. Human life imitates this pattern in nature, as the elderly pass, new babies are born to continue on their legacy.
Samhain, also known as the festival of the dead, was believed to be the time when souls traveled to the world beyond. Because the veil between the worlds was thinned, this was also the time when the living could connect more easily with their deceased loved ones. If regrets needed to be put to rest, if old sorrows needed to be communicated, Samhain was the time to do it.
As Christianity took root and blended in Celtic beliefs, Samhain became Hallows Eve—also a time when the dead visited the living, but now the connection was menacing, something to be feared. The supernatural took on a fearful cast and ghosts were no longer welcomed to visit or share this Hallowed day with us as freely.
Over time, what was once sacred turned scary, and eventually became a source of fun and games. Yet there is something valuable in seeing this holiday as it was once intended—a time of remembrance, a day to communicate with those who walked before us and send them our love and understanding. Halloween has a long and fascinating history, so as we gear our children up for a night of fun and get ready to open our door to share treats with the neighborhood kids, why not also take a moment to think about what it all means and from whence it came. And if it’s true and we indeed have this one day where we are a bit closer to those who have passed on, let’s make the most of it; let’s write them a letter, listen to their favorite song or indulge in their favorite meal—it can even be trick-or-treat candy.