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Celtic Halloween Traditions

Celtic Halloween traditions begin with the ancient Celtic religious celebration of Samhain (summer's end). One of the two greatest Druidic festivals (Beltane is the other), Samhain marked the end of the light half of the year and the beginning of the dark half.

Samhain is the Celtic new year celebration. Beginning on the evening of October 31 (the Celts counted their days from sunset to sunset), the festival would last three days (perhaps longer).

As with other holidays of the Celtic year, Halloween marked a mystical time when the usual barriers between our world and the Otherworld thinned and stretched allowing contact between human beings and the fairy folk and/or the spirits of the dead.

Many of the celebratory Halloween elements, such as playing pranks, originated in the notion that at this time the world was turned inside out prompting people to act with abandon against the usual social strictures.

Fire is a central element in all the Druidic celebrations. All hearthfires were put out and new fires lit from the great bonfires. In Scotland, men lit torches in the bonfires and circled their homes and lands with them to obtain protection for the coming year.

Later, Christian elements came into play, as All Hallows' Day (all Saints' Day) and All Souls' Day contributed their own unique traditions to the core, such as trick or treating (collecting "soul cakes" on All Souls' Day) and dressing up in frightening costumes as protection against evil spirits.

Once Halloween (name corrupted from All Hallows' Eve) came to America from Ireland and Scotland, other cultures have added their own elements to the modern American celebration - vampire lore, werewolves, etc.

The above article is reprinted with permission from Heart o' Scotland - History of Halloween.

Buy Books about Halloween History and Celebrations
The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween
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The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: Celebrating the Dark Half of the Year
by Jean Markale, Jon Graham


"Celtic scholar Jean Markale explores "the shadowy zones" of All Hallows' Eve in The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween. Though the name comes from the Christians' All Saints' Eve, Halloween can be traced back thousands of years to Samhain--the beginning of the "dark half" of the Celtic yearly calendar. As a feasting and merrymaking festival, Samhain lasted about three days, and attendance was mandatory, according to Markale. It was also the time when fairy folk made themselves available to humans, and the borders between the worlds of the living and the dead were said to blur.

Markale is a thorough historian, offering a plausible account of how Samhain evolved into the modern day celebration. For readers seeking general Halloween information, Markale may be too dry and detailed. But for those intrigued by pagan festivals and lifestyle, this could be as delectable and coveted as a bag of Halloween candy." --Gail Hudson for amazon.com.
The Real Halloween : Ritual and Magic
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The Real Halloween: Ritual and Magic for the New Millennium
by Sheena Morgan


"Filled with vivid, atmospheric color photos and illustrations, The Real Halloween opens with a fascinating history of Halloween's past and changing traditions. It's an overview of the holiday from ancient times to the present, shedding light on sacrificial pagan rituals, describing the medieval autumn religious festival, and concluding with the modern secular holiday's goblins, ghosts, costumes, and trick-or-treat rituals.

Part Two takes readers to the present time, putting the emphasis on fun. It's a collection of games, crafts, recipes, and treats for Halloween party time. It also includes ideas for making jack-o'-lanterns, and presents recipes for pumpkin pie that everybody will love.

The book's third and final section is a whimsical look into the future, with fortune-telling methods that use autumn leaves, nuts, cakes, and mirrors. It also features directions for making several magic charms, including "love apples" to keep romantic relationships sweet. Approximately 100 full-color illustrations."

This book reminds me of Agatha Christie's description of Halloween parties in Britain in the 1930s and 40s - lots of emphasis on old pagan games of fortune telling and finding your future love in a scrying mirror. Great party ideas for pagans and non-pagans.
The Hallowed Eve
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The Hallowed Eve: Dimensions of Culture in a Calendar Festival in Northern Ireland
by Jack Santino


In Northern Ireland, Halloween is such a major celebration that it is often called the Irish Christmas. A day of family reunions, meals, and fun, Halloween brings people of all ages together with rhyming, storytelling, family fireworks, and community bonfires. Perhaps most important, it has become a day that transcends the social conflict found in this often troubled nation.

Through the extensive use of interviews, The Hallowed Eve offers a fascinating look at the various customs, both past and present, that mark the celebration of the holiday. Looking through the lenses of gender, ethnicity, and religious affiliation, Jack Santino examines how the traditions exist in a nonthreatening, celebratory way to provide a model of how life could be in Northern Ireland. Halloween, concludes Santino, is a marriage of death and life, a joining of cultural opposites: indoor and outdoor, domesticity and wildness, female and male, young and old.
Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life
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Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life
by Jack Santino


"'Halloween is many things to many people; we do not celebrate the day in any one way.' So Jack Santino writes in this first ever collection of essays dedicated to the study of Halloween and related festivals. Thirteen folklore and culture scholars examine the evolution of Halloween from its Celtic origins through its adaptation into modern culture. Essays on holiday customs describe harvest and autumnal rituals in Scotland, new Halloween traditions in response to legends about contaminated candy, the custom of "pranking" (more popular in some areas of the U.S. than trick-or-treating), England's Guy Fawkes Day and a parallel Bonfire Night in Newfoundland, and the development of American trick-or-treating in the years 1940-1990." --Fiona Webster for amazon.com.
Halloween Encyclopedia
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The Halloween Encyclopedia
by Lisa Morton


Major entries include Samhain, the Celtic ancestor of Halloween; witches, a major Christian addition to the mythology of Halloween and one that still generates interest and controversy; skeletons, a universally recognized symbol of death; the Day of the Dead, the Mexican holiday that is often compared to Halloween; the jack-o’-lantern, which has its roots in folktales starring the rascally Jack who always manages somehow to beat the Devil; and trick-or-treating, the most loved and misunderstood American Halloween ritual. Hundreds of small entries cover Halloween history and mythology, fortune-telling lore, harvest legends, and 20th century additions to the holiday’s rituals.
Dressed for Thrills
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Dressed for Thrills : 100 Years of Halloween Costumes and Masquerade
by Phyllis Galembo, Mark Alice Durant, Valerie Steele


A whimsical array of ghosts and goblins, spooks and skeletons, vamps and vampires parade through this unparalleled collection of more than 100 years of American Halloween attire.

In her celebration of Halloween revelry, photographer Phyllis Galembo never settles for the ordinary; here instead are evocative scenes of dressed-to-scare young trick-or-treaters "modeling" their disguises, of undead spirits haunting their surroundings, and of costumes spanning over a century that take on an eerie new creepiness thanks to special lighting effects.

Accompanying the costume shots is a history of this always-popular holiday and an essay placing the work in the wider context of fashion and costume. Of interest to enthusiasts, designers, and students alike, this devilishly diverting book is the perfect gift for all Halloween aficionados.
101 Spooktacular Party Ideas
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101 Spooktacular Party Ideas
by Linda Sadler


Whether you are having a few neighborhood children over, or are throwing a huge Halloween bash, 101 Spooktacular Party Ideas will help you plan an unforgettable Halloween party.

It is filled with ideas that will help you haunt your house with boo-tiful decorations, serve sinisterly delectable treats, play bone chilling games and make fiendishly fun crafts and party favors.

101 Spooktacular Party Ideas features 9 outdoor decorations, 10 indoor decorations, 10 quick and easy treats, 15 make ahead treats, 10 beverage ideas, 22 relay and active games, 11 quiet games, 14 craft and party favors, and more!
Scary Scenes for Halloween
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Scary Scenes for Halloween
by Jill Williams Grover


"Interior designer Jill Williams Grover remembers that as a young girl, she chose her trick-or-treat visits not for what candy she'd receive but because of the front porch decorations. Obviously her fascination with Halloween continued into adulthood, and her marvelously inventive guide shows you how to turn your own home into a coveted trick-or-treating stop or the perfect place for a Halloween party.

"Scary Nibbles" offers spooky snacks, like Ghost Sticks (white-chocolate-covered pretzel sticks) or Hand Full of Candy (a latex glove fitted with pointy black fingernails and filled with jawbreakers). "Enter at Your Own Risk" lets you startle your arriving visitors with blood-red footprints marching up the Poppin' Walkway (the secret is bubble wrap) and provides ideas for eerie decor, such as a witch hat luminary, masked and jeweled pumpkins, skeleton topiary, and of course, the Invisible Man. "Frightful Feast" sets forth a tablescape of ghoulish goodies, from spiderweb invitations, spider tablecloth, and bat napkins to dripping candles and Dracula's Bow Tie Pasta. "Goblin Gathering" rounds out the spooky selections with a Cyclops Mug, Frankenstein Cone Cake, and relevant place cards, place mats, and other tableware.

Complete directions are given for all the projects, and there are recipes for the edibles (enough for a full-fledged Halloween dinner party). The great color photos make clear that these scary scenes are both fun and sophisticated--though kids will adore them, they'll also delight the grownups brave enough to venture into your house." --Amy Handy for amazon.com
Illegally Easy Halloween Costumes for Kids
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Illegally Easy Halloween Costumes for Kids
by Leila Peltosaari


This award-winning book will make you a costume wizard. Create an unforgettable outfit for a child for Halloween and other occasions. 100 costumes with lavish full-color photos and user-friendly visual index, simple patterns in three sizes for children 3-12 year-olds, no-sew shortcuts, last-minute solutions, treat bags & accessories. Easy-to-follow instructions and well-organized layout.

Most costumes can be made without a sewing machine, many in just one evening, some even in an hour or less. Creative and comfortable designs range from traditional and storybook characters, animals and clowns to celestial beings, cultural tributes, and country costumes. Background information for the characters, Halloween history, and safety tips are included.