What Halloween Is Really All About

When you’re young, Halloween is often just a race to see how much candy you can acquire in a span of a few hours. You may still have a sugar hangover from all the candy gorging you did on Halloween when you were a kid—I know I do!! When you’re a young adult, Halloween may be about donning a clever or sexy costume and dancing the night away, unleashing a wilder, more uninhibited part of yourself for just one night.But the candy and costumes hearken back to an ancient and meaningful tradition that may help give us a new perspective on the holiday, and on the year.

You say Halloween, I say Samhain (pronounced sow-in). That’s the name of the ancient Celtic festival that Halloween descended from. 2,000 years ago, the Celts celebrated their new year on November 1, and so on October 31, they had a festival at which people would wear costumes and light bonfires, burn crops and sacrifice animals. On this night that marked the boundary between one year and the next, between summer and winter, between two worlds, the spirits and deities were thought to be closer, more present. And so, all these rituals were an attempt to commune with the otherworldly, to gain insight into what the next year held. At the end of the ritual, they would re-light their hearth fires to help protect them for the coming winter.

Of course, once the Romans came around and conquered most of the Celts’ territory, they mashed their tradition of All Saints’ Day into Samhain; it was further distorted by the disparate cultures of colonial New Englanders, the many different immigrants to America, and Native Americans, among others.

I, however, like to think back to the Celts and their communion with other realms. I like to think that on this night, I am closer to something outside myself and my everyday routines. And I even like to think about doing a little dance, a little strange ritual, or–even better–a meditation during which I set an intention to help prepare me for the winter months ahead.