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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Halloween's Celtic Roots

Beyond costume parties and trick-or-treating, the origins of Halloween can be traced to the Celtic New Year. The Romans, the Christian Church and, ultimately, commercialized society revised and reinvented this holiday, but inside the modern traditions traces of Halloween's ancient past remain. Jenny Butler, a Ph.D. student of Béaloideas/Folklore at the University College Cork in Ireland, will be speaking about Pagan and Celtic traditions at the International Conference on Halloween, held at Glasgow Caledonian University on October 31. ARCHAEOLOGY asked Butler to explain the Celtic roots of Halloween and how relics of the past are understood today. What is Samhain and how does it relate to Halloween? Samhain is the ancient Celtic feast of the dead that is thought to have marked the start of winter. Because the Celts are believed to have measured time by nights rather than by days, as we do today, Samhain was the festival that marked the "New Year" for the Celtic peoples. The word Samhain is derived from the Old Irish language for the time of this festival and is still used in modern Irish to refer to the month of November. The word might be a linguistic inversion of the Irish-language term samhradh (summer) so that Samhain means "summer's end." Halloween or "All Hallow's Eve" is the night of October 31 and is the eve of All Saint's Day in the Christian tradition. Both feast days are connected with the dead and take place on the same calendar date and the modern Halloween can be seen to be a scene of merging of different cultural elements, some ancient, some pre-modern, some contemporary.