The word Hallowe’en is short for All Hallows’ Eve and refers to the evening of 31st October. This is the evening before All Saints’ Day on 1st November, celebrated in the Christian calendar. Nowadays, it is a day when people dress up as ghosts and witches, have parties and try to scare each other. Although it’s often considered a modern commercial festivity, its origins date back over 2,000 years to the pagan Celtic festival of Samhain.
The ancient festival of Samhain (pronounced saa-ween) means summer’s end. It was a festival that celebrated the end of harvest season and the start of the coldest part of the year. Many people, especially in Ireland, also believed that it was a time when the wall dividing our world from the spirit world became very thin. This meant that spirits could pass through the wall and contact people here. Nobody wanted to be recognised by bad spirits so they dressed in costumes and lit candles to keep them away. Nobody knows for sure how much the traditions of Samhain and All Saints’ Day influenced each other but now it’s difficult for most people to distinguish between them and our more modern version of Hallowe’en.