Halloween has its origins in Celtic tradition and it is from this time that we get many of the traditions that we associate with October 31st today.
The Celtic people didn’t have months instead they divided their year into two halve two halves; one light and one dark. At the stroke of midnight on the 31st October the dark half of the year began, this was known as the ‘Summers end’ or Samhuinn (sometimes called Samhain).
They believed that Samhuinn (pronounced ‘sa – when’) is the time of the year when the barrier between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead is at its thinnest.
Celtic Samhuinn/Halloween Traditions
1. Trick or Treat
One of the most popular Halloween traditions which is still in practice today is ‘Trick or Treat’. For people in Scotland this act is better known as guising.
This is when you would dress up, usually as something scary, and ask for treats. Those who didn’t give treats would be left with a trick or a prank.
The act of the treat came from the practice of leaving offerings on doorsteps to appease any ill-meaning spirits who may visit. People would dress up in the hopes that the costumes would disguise the fact that they were human and hopefully blend into the otherworldly visitors.
We all associate candles with Halloween - thought most of us think of them as atmospheric lighting. Traditionally, candles would be lit around the home - often on the windowsill or doorway - as a way to guide lost spirits home when the realm between the two worlds was at its thinnest. The ideal would be for the candles to be made of beeswax due to their bright, clear light. For an example see https://www.lilaccottageshop.com/product-page/raw-beeswax-candles
3. Dumb Supper
A Dumb Supper feast would be held during Samhuinn for any ancestors or loved ones who had passed away, with one extra place set for the dearly departed. Food would be served onto this plate and all of the guests would eat in silence with the door of the room left open for the dead to join. After the meal was finished, the meal left at the empty place setting would be taken outside and left in the open for the spirits to finish off.
4. Rowan crosses
During Samhuinn, crosses were made from the twigs of the rowan tree and tied with red cord to ward off evil spirits.
In Celtic mythology the rowan tree is also seen as the Tree of Life and symbolises courage, wisdom and protection. The red berries are symbolic not only because red is believed to be a protective colour but because at the bottom of the berry you can find the shape of a pentagram, an ancient protective symbol.
5. Carved turnips or pumpkins
It wouldn’t be Halloween without carved pumpkins. Traditionally turnips were used as they were more easily accessible. Grotesque faces were carved into turnips, with a candle lit inside, designed to scare away any unwanted visitors… However, turnips are very difficult to carve (and the smell not to everyone’s taste) and so the move was made to the much softer pumpkin!
6. Apple peel
As a child I remember trying to peel an apple keeping the skin in one piece! This is because tradition has it that at this time of year was the easiest time to see into the future. Unmarried women would throw the peel over their shoulder and it would fall into the shape of the initial of the man they would someday marry. It always seems to be a C or an M; but maybe that was just me as I did end up marrying a man whose initials are MC!