Groups of ghouls, pint-sized pumpkins, princesses, skeletons, and werewolves scan porch lights for treats while moms and dads, with flashlights, watch from sidewalks. Jack-o-lanterns leer into the night, strings of orange lights pierce the gloom, and chilled winds whip banners of witches riding craggy broomsticks. Neighbors’ brazier fires create oases of light, cauldrons hold treats for the costumed, and merriment escalates with the encroaching darkness—and it’s very dark.

Again, it’s Halloween, its hilarity, a distraction from the shivers of winter’s onset. Yet, few know of its ancient origins, even its date, October 31st.

Bands of roving Celtic families, primarily located in the insular countries of Ireland and Britain, depended upon Druidic priests for their spiritual guidance. The resulting rich oral tradition—all committed to memory—included the October 31st observance of Samhain, the Celtic New Year. 

Gigantic sacred bonfires, aflame through the night, signaled the holiday’s beginning. Because the protective barrier to the Other World, the realm of dead and evil spirits, was thin, the Celts donned disguises to conceal their identities. Spirit-crossovers and prognostications intended for the Druids also occurred.

Because the harvest had been completed, the Celts selected choice produce and animals from their fields to sacrifice to the gods, in thanksgiving as Druid stories and other rituals filled the night. A take-home gift from the bonfire was the new flame, to cook and warm their huts until the next New year. That was over two thousand years ago.

The Christianization of these lands brought make-overs, rather than change. In 609 CE, Pope Gregory III reconstituted the observance of Samhain into three parts: All Hallows Eve (Halloween) on October 31st; All Saints Day on November 1st; and All Soul Day on November 2nd. The Celts’ spirituality was easily amenable to this adjustment. 

With them, we hold fast to the light of faith, illumining winter’s darkness: it will pass.