In Celtic Ireland, Samhain marked the end of the bright half of the year known as ‘Beltaine’ and the start of the dark half of the year in the Celtic New Year calendar. It occurred on October 31st through to sunset on November 1, but festivities in Ireland would continue over several days rather than one.
At the time, the celtic druids would dread this time. The days got shorter and their crops would struggle, also marking the end of grazing season for their animals. Their harvest had to be complete before this date which rooted from old traditions that if they left them they would be spoiled by the fairies! (we have another blog all about the fairies folklore!) Food was offered to the gods and the dead at feasts. People would dress up to scare away evil spirits during their Samhain ritual.
Just like in each of the 3 other seasonal festivals, fires were a huge tradition. The Great Fire Festival played a huge role in the traditions of Samhain. It gave light and warmth to the dark season ahead. The Great Fire was held at the hill of Tlachtga (Hill of Ward).
This festival marked the time of year where the link between our world and the other world were at its strongest. It is believed that spirits were able to return to this world during the festival of Samhain. These Great Feasts were held in honour of the dead, where untouched plates of food would be left out for ‘pookas’ and ‘faires’ who had a strong presence during this night.
We can see the influences from Samhain festivities in how we celebrate Halloween today, with bonfires playing a strong part.