October Celebrations: The Differences Between Samhain and Halloween

October 10, 2021

October Celebrations: The Differences Between Samhain and Halloween


Halloween is one of the most popular holidays of the year for all ages. Known for its spooky, scary-faced pumpkins, goofy costumes, and endless amounts of candy, it’s no doubt has this holiday has come to be one of the most fun, versatile and creative of them all for people of all ages. However, Halloween wasn’t always that way. In fact, many of the traditions of Halloween today are believed to be derived from an old Celtic holiday known as Samhain. And while these two events are commonly referred to as the same celebration, Halloween and Samhain are actually not the same and are considered to be miles apart in their traditions and practices. So, to help you better understand why these two October events are so different, today, we’re going to talk all about them.


In this article, we’re going to go over everything having to do with Samhain and Halloween. We’re going to cover their correspondences, history, origin, and key differences to give you better insight into these beautiful October celebrations and how you can honor them each in their own way. Let’s get started.

The Samhain Celebration


Samhain correspondences:


Date: October 31st - November 1st

Colors: Black, orange, gold, white, silver, and brown

Crystals: Obsidian, onyx, smokey quartz, and bloodstone

Deities: Horned god, Anubis, Loki, Hecate, and Demeter 

Herbs: Mugwort, allspice, rosemary, cinnamon, and sage

Food: Pumpkin, apple, nuts, corn, cider, ale, grains, squash, and potatoes 


What is Samhain? 


To start, Samhain (pronounced SAH-WEN) is the third and final harvest festival of the Wheel of the Year that signifies the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. Taking place on October 31st, starting at sunset and ending at sunset on the 1st of November, this day marks the end of summer and the beginning of the winter on the old calendar and was considered to be an important time for giving offerings to the dead and communing with them. 


In Wiccan belief, Samhain is also the time in which the Sun God dies, leaving the Goddess, who is now in her Crone stage, to mourn him until he is reborn again at Yule. Without the light and warmth of the Sun God, the world then turns dark and cold, with nights growing longer, plants and trees dying, and a cold chill taking over the earth for many months ahead. On top of that, Samhain also marked the start of the Witch’s New Year and is considered to be one of the most powerful sabbat celebrations of all.  

What Practices Happened on Samhain?


Now, when it comes to the practices of Samhain, in ancient times, Samhain was known as a fire festival that celebrated the third and final harvest. However, another big aspect of this day was also saved for honoring the dead. This is because, on the night of October 31st, the veil between our world and the spirit world would grow to be its thinnest, allowing spirits to return to earth for one night, making this a powerful time for communing with ancestors and loved ones. Because of this, large bonfires were often lit, and food and drink were offered to the spirits to appease them. To follow this, a spot was often left open at the table as an offering for deceased family members to join in a sacred ritual to honor them. 


Not to mention, in many old traditions, sacrifices of harvest crops and animals were also thrown into bonfires and burned as a protective measure from evil otherworldly beings. Offerings were also done to ensure the spirits and deities do not do harm or cause mischief to ensure a safe and successful winter. But aside from this, at the bonfires of the Samhain festival, spiritual activities such as fortune-telling were also often done, as this was considered to be a powerful time when spirits were able to communicate more easily with the living than ever before. Because of this, many Celtic and Druid priests would also take part in rituals with the dead to receive information from the spirit world about the coming winter, including predictions, warnings of illness, or disaster. 


However, where there is good, there is also bad, and this was also believed to be a time that dark spirits and otherworldly monsters could also return for one night as well and wreak havoc on the lives of the living. As a result, many feared angry spirits might destroy crops or kill livestock, so costumes were worn by the Celts during Samhain festivities to allow the living to hide from spirits and avoid their wrath, as well as scare them off so they did not do harm. To take this a step further, an old Irish tradition of carving the scary faces of evil spirits into potatoes or turnips was also done, followed by lighting them and putting them in their window on Samhain night to scare away any spirits that happened to wander by. These, alongside fires in the fireplace in the home, were left to burn all night to keep the evil spirits away. Many believe that this may also be where the origin of carving faces on pumpkins and placing candles in them for modern-day Halloween may have originated from. 

Samhain Celebration Ideas


Now that we’ve gone over a little of what Samhain was said to be traditionally about and what practices were common, we also wanted to share a few simple celebration ideas for Samhain that you can do today in our modern world that pay tribute to the sabbat. Let’s go over them. 

1. Reflection and gratitude


To start off, the first and easiest way to celebrate Samhain is by embracing the changes happening all around you. While this is a sabbat that is heavily associated with loved ones and ancestors, it is also a powerful time for reflection, letting go, and planting seeds of intention for the winter that will rise in the spring. More than anything, make sure you take some time to slow down, reflect, and give thanks for all that you have and all the hard work you’ve put in since this time last year to fully embrace the healing energies of the season and align more intimately with the sabbat.

2. Make an ancestral altar


The next way to celebrate Samhain is by creating a simple ancestral altar to honor your loved ones. Of course, this can be done in any way you see fit, and no two ancestral altars are likely to look the same. However, a few ideas of what you could include on your ancestral altar might include:


  • An offering
  • A personal belonging of theirs
  • A picture of your loved ones
  • A note to them
  • A single candle

Additionally, if you choose to honor someone who may have passed that you were unable to meet in person, you may choose to set the intention of honoring them by lighting a candle for them and holding the thought of them in your head. Above all else, just remember that you don’t need a personal item of theirs or a personal memory with them in order to make a beautiful connection with them. 


Aside from ancestor decor on your altar, you can also decorate your altar with other correspondences of the season, including: 


  • Gourds
  • Acorns
  • Autumn colored leaves or garland
  • Orange, gold, black, red, and yellow candles
  • Orange and black crystals

And more. Of course, these are just a few ideas; however, the most important thing is to make sure each item connects with you, as that is what will give it its true power. 


3. Host a dumb supper


And lastly, another common tradition passed down from the past is a simple ancestral ritual known as a dumb supper. A dumb supper can best be described as a simple way to honor your loved ones who have passed by inviting them to your table and honoring them through food and drink. For this, a special spot at the table is left for your loved ones and ancestors who have passed, with a plate of food made up for them, and the rest of the family joins and sits around with their plates of food as well. However, the main aspect of this ritual is that it is done without speaking, with the word ‘dumb’ referring to silent. This means that no one may speak from the time they enter the dining room until the time they leave the dining room, as this is considered to be part of a sacred ritual of honoring and remembering your loved ones through intentional silence. 


Now, before the meal begins, it is often recommended that everyone at the table joins hands and sends an intentional energy of love and gratitude to the spirits of their deceased loved ones. Many people also choose to write down their message to their family members who have passed and burn it in a dedicated ancestral candle in the center of the table. However, you may choose to do this however you prefer. 


When everyone has finished, each guest should send love to their family members at the table once more and say goodbye. After this, you can place the plate of food for your loved ones in a dedicated area outside, perhaps under a tree, and close the ritual. Of course, it is important to note that there is no right or wrong way to host a dumb supper, so please feel free to adjust and change the ritual as needed to fit your personal needs.


The Halloween Celebration

What is Halloween? 


Now that we’ve gone over Samhain, when it comes to Halloween, many know this as a festive annual holiday of dressing up in costumes, carving pumpkins, and treat or treating. However, it wasn’t always like this. In fact, the origin of Halloween is believed to have been derived from the pagan and Celtic celebration of Samhain but was taken and changed by many different cultures throughout the years. 


In fact, it is believed that a day known as “All Hallow’s Day” was a Christian alternative to Samhain, originating in medieval England and celebrating the lives of faithful Christian saints. The Christian church originally celebrated this day on May 13th but later switched it to November 1st, making October 31st known as “All Hallows Eve,” which would eventually change and become known as Halloween. And, although the name may have changed, All Hallow’s Eve kept many of the same traditions of Samhain but focused more around their saints than that of ancestors or evil spirits. 


Over time, and with the influence of many different cultures, Halloween would continue to lose its original meaning and would leave behind its associations of honoring loved ones and warding off evil spirits to instead become a fun and spooky holiday for costume parties and candy that we have all come to know today. 

Halloween Celebration Ideas


Now that we’ve gone over a little of Halloween’s origin history, let’s talk about a few of the most common Halloween traditions and how they may have started. 

1. Apple bobbing


One of the first common traditions of Halloween today is apple bobbing. This is considered to be a fun game where children try to capture apples in water with their teeth to win a prize. However, in the past, this had very different associations that typically had to do with divination, love predictions, and protection. 


2. Pumpkin carving


Next, another common tradition for Halloween is to carve pumpkins. While this is often done as a fun, family-friendly festivity to decorate your house or yard with, this practice is believed to have originated from the Samhain practice of carving scary faces into potatoes and turnips to ward off evil spirits. 

3. Trick or treating


And lastly, the most obvious celebration linked with Halloween is trick or treating. While this is mostly done by children nowadays, in ancient times, it is believed that trick or treating originated from the poor begging for coins and scraps from door-to-door or children collecting soul cakes on All Hallow’s Eve. However, many others believe that it may have also originated from run-ins with evil spirits and monsters on Samhain night, bribing them with “treats” so that they would not do harm. 



While the exact origins aren’t certain, what we know for sure is that trick or treating has grown and changed throughout the years to something entirely different today than what its original meaning may have been in ancient times.

What are the Differences Between Samhain and Halloween?


And finally, when it comes to the differences between these two celebrations, there is quite a bit to note. While Halloween is celebrated in similar ways as Samhain with costumes, carving faces, scary costumes, and more, the meaning behind each celebration is entirely different. For example, Samhain comes from pagan roots, while Halloween has roots in Christianity. However, many believe Halloween was initially created by Christians to replace Samhain for those who did not believe in otherworldly spirits. Therefore, instead of scary masks to ward of bad spirits, it became fun and scary and goofy masks to scare your friends or make them laugh. And instead of carving faces into turnips and potatoes to protect a home from evil spirits, it became pumpkin carving as a fun activity to see who could create the scariest faces, and so forth. 


Not to mention, Halloween is more of a secular holiday that has evolved to become a celebration for all age groups with traditions such as trick-or-treating and costume parties. While Samhain, on the other hand, is considered to be a religious celebration for the harvest, honoring the dead, warding off evil spirits, and honoring deities. Therefore, Halloween could be considered to be more of a fun annual event for everyone, while Samhain is a sacred festival that is still followed by many old religions to this day.  

Conclusion


To sum it all up, Halloween holds a small, loosely-based shadow of many of the traditions of the ancient sabbat of Samhain that have been changed to be more family-friendly and fun for all ages in today’s modern world. However, there is no denying the powerful history that it branches off of from so long ago. So, while these two celebrations certainly share similarities, these two events are incredibly different and should be honored and celebrated in their own unique ways. Above all else, we hope this article has helped you to better understand the differences between these two celebrations and how you can truly make the most of them throughout the powerful month of October.



Blessed Samhain & Happy Halloween!

Written by: The Spirit Chic


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