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The Celtic Roots of Hallowe’en

Samhain was a harvest festival that started in pre-Christian culture some 2000 years ago. It was part of the culture for all of Ireland and the United Kingdom. It was the night marking the end of summer and the coming of winter – The dying of the light and coming of the dark.  It marked the final harvest of the year.  

People believed it was a time when witches and warlocks were out and about engaging in wicked practices.  In many parts of Scotland, they left an empty chair and a plate of food out for invisible guests.  People believed it was the night when the souls of their dead ancestors were set free and that they may come into their houses and eat at their tables.  The playing of pranks during Samhain was also common and can be recorded as far back at the 1700s.  

Fire was very often part of the Samhain ritual – sometimes bonfires would be set or torches of burning fir or turf would be carried around the homes and fields to protect them.  

Communal eating was another common theme with the custom of the Scottish Hallowe’en cake.  Inside the cake would be three trinkets – ring, coin and button.  Whoever got the ring would be the first to wed, the person who found the coin would see riches, and finding the button meant you would never marry.

In modern times, Samhain continued despite the coming of Christianity.  November 1st become known as All Saints Day, while October 31st was Eve of All Saints Day, or All HallowsEve. Most of our traditions of today can be traced back to Scotland and the Celts.

Todays Trick or Treating came from the custom of going door-to-door collecting food for the Samhain feasts, fuel for the bonfires, and offerings for the fairies and spirits.  Even today in Scotland, the flames of bonfires can still be seen on Hallowe’en.  

The act of “trick or treating” in America is different from when I was a child in Scotland.  Traditionally we would dress up in some sort of costume or old clothing to go “guising” (aka disguised).  We would then go to our neighbors houses and perform songs, jokes, stories, or poems as a “trick” and in return we would get a “treat” such as fruit, nuts, candy.  It was more of a local community involvement and something done on the street where you lived.  I’m not sure when this tradition was actually lost since we left Scotland in 1967.   Most now go with the American way of trick or treating.

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