Samhain – The Celtic roots of Halloween

Tlachtga where Samhain was celebrated

Tlachtga where the Great Fire Festival at Samhain was celebrated
Tlachtga in the Boyne Valley where the Great Fire Festival at Samhain was celebrated

As millions of adults and children participate in the fun of Halloween on the night of October 31st, few will be aware of its ancient Celtic roots in the Samhain festival. In Celtic Ireland about 2,000 years ago, Samhain was the division of the year between the lighter half and the darker half. At Samhain the division between this world and the otherworld was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through.

The family’s ancestors were honored and invited home whilst harmful spirits were warded off. People wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves as spirits and thus avoid harm. Bonfires and food played a large part in the festivities. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into a communal fire, household fires were extinguished and started again from the bonfire. Food was prepared for the living and the dead, food for the ancestors who of course couldn’t eat it, was ritually shared with those in need.

Christianity incorporated the honoring of the dead into the Christian calendar with All Hallows (All Saints) on November 1st, followed by All Souls on November 2nd. The wearing of costumes and masks to ward off harmful spirits survived as a Halloween custom. The Irish emigrated to America in great numbers especially around the time of the Great Famine in the mid 19th century. The Irish carried their Halloween traditions to America, where today it is one of the major holidays of the year. Through time other traditions have blended into Halloween, for example the American harvest time tradition of carving pumpkins.

Two hills in the Boyne Valley were associated with Samhain in Celtic Ireland, Tlachtga and Tara. Tlachtga was the location of the Great Fire Festival which begun on the eve of Samhain. The Hill of Tara was also associated with Samhain; however, it was secondary to Tlachtga as a Samhain location.

The entrance passage to the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara is aligned with the rising sun around Samhain. The Mound of the Hostages is 4,500 to 5000 years old, suggesting that Samhain was celebrated long before the first Celts arrived in Ireland about 2,500 years ago.

Tlachtga where the Great Fire Festival at Samhain was celebrated
Samhain sunbeam in the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara

Púca Festival

The Púca Festival at the end of October in the Boyne Valley celebrates the Celtic New Year with music, fire, feasting and merriment in the spirit of Halloween. When light turns to dark and the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead thins, the creatures of Samhain, Ireland’s ancient Halloween tradition, come to life.

Roaming the darkness like a shadowy spectre, the shape-shifting spirit of Púca comes alive! Changing the fortunes of all who cross her path as she transforms the night into a colorful playground of hallowed celebration. Through the spectacular nights at Púca Festival, the Halloween spirits are saluted through folklore, food, myth and music.