The History of Samhain and Halloween!

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Kelly Macquire
published on 26 October 2021

The history of Halloween goes back thousands of years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. It was celebrated halfway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, it started on October 31st at dusk, and probably went for three days. It was a celebration of the transition from the lighter half of the year, to the darker half. There’s a bit of mystery surrounding Samhain but we know that the Ancient Celtic priests known as Druids would light a new bonfire after everyone had extinguished their hearths at the beginning of the festival, and then onto the bonfire, they would throw animal bones from animals that had been sacrificed (this is where you get the word bonfire, from bone-fire).

When Christianity arrived in Ireland in the 5th century CE, the Christians found it easier to convert people to their faith by incorporating some of the Pagan celebrations into the Catholic calendar, and that’s exactly what happened with Samhain! All Saints Day, also known as All Hallow’s Day, which was initially observed on May 13th was moved to November 1st, and then November second became All Souls Day which was used to absorb elements of Samhain that couldn’t be absorbed into All Hallows Day. The evening before All Hallow’s Day, All Hallows Evening (also known as All Hallow's Eve), eventually became known as Halloween.

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Jack o’ lanterns
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About the Author

Kelly Macquire
Kelly is a graduate from Monash University who has completed her BA (Honours) in Ancient History and Archaeology, focussing on iconography and status in Pylos burials. She has a passion for mythology and the Aegean Bronze Age.

Cite This Work

APA Style

Macquire, K. (2021, October 26). The History of Samhain and Halloween!. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Macquire, Kelly. "The History of Samhain and Halloween!." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified October 26, 2021.

MLA Style

Macquire, Kelly. "The History of Samhain and Halloween!." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 26 Oct 2021. Web. 12 Jul 2024.