What Is Samhain? | Ancient Origins of Halloween

Samhain history ancient origins of Halloween

Halloween is the one day of the year when you can dress up as a magical fairy or a dead corpse and no one bats an eye. It’s a night filled with magic, mystery, and sweet surprises. Personally, it’s one of my favorite holidays as I am fond of anything that involves the spiritual realm. Plus, who doesn’t like dressing up and getting free candy?

Growing up Filipino-Catholic, I practiced both religious and nonreligious traditions. I dressed up in costumes, went trick-or-treating, and attended candy-filled parties. I also went with my family to church and then to the gravesites of our departed loved ones.

We would set up tents on the grounds and host feasts for the entire clan, always making sure to leave a cup and a plate for those no longer with us. We lay flowers by their graves and lit candles and said prayers. We prayed for their souls and ask our ancestors to watch over us. To us, halloween was always about honoring the dead.

Although the observance of Halloween today is typically nonreligious, the traditions we still practice stem from religious roots.


Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, is an annual holiday observed on the 31st of October and marks the first day of the Western Christian Triduum, Allhallowtide.

It is then followed by the Christian holy day, All Saints’ Day, which is celebrated on the 1st of November and is dedicated to the saints of the Church who have reached Heaven. The Hallowtide season is concluded by All Souls’ Day, celebrated on the 2nd of November and dedicated to the souls who have died but not yet reached Heaven.



The origin of Halloween can be traced back over 2,000 years ago to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced ‘sah-win‘). The festival of Samhain marked the ‘end of summer’ and the final harvest before the dark winter. It also marked the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of a new one.

The Celts believed that during Samhain, the thin veil between the living and the dead was lifted, therefore allowing the souls of the departed to roam the earth and walk among the living.

This was an era of ghosts, demons, witches, faeries, and goblins, and they were said to come out from the Underworld during Samhain. To avoid being recognized by evil spirits, people wore masks typically made out of animal head or parts.

To honor the dead and keep evil spirits at bay, the Celts built huge sacred bonfires where they gathered around to burn crops and animals as sacrifices. Originally known as the “Feast of the Dead”, the feast, which they celebrated on Samhain Eve, was both for the living and the dead so it was customary that a place was set at the head of the table for their departed ancestors during Dumb Supper. They also honored the wandering souls by leaving food offerings on altars and doorsteps.

Samhain was also a night for divination and prophecies. The spirits that came out during Samhain were said to give off divinatory energy that helped in fortune telling. People would gather around those with the Second Sight (clairvoyants) for a chance to know their fortune for the coming year.


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