of the Villages

 Bonfire Night and Hallowe’en

Hallowe’en is celebrated each year on October 31, but the heavily-American influenced version we have nowadays disguises the much older tradition underpinning Hallowe’en – and other celebrations linked to it. Hallowe’en originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off malevolent spirits. In the North of England, Mischief Night is celebrated either on the night before Hallowe’en or on the evening of November 4th. Its link to the supposed presence of wicked and naughty things is an obvious link to Samhain and it results in children or teenagers engaging in jokes, pranks,  and vandalism. (More tricking than treating!)

Maybe because of the demonic tinge to Samhain, in the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honour all saints. Soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Hallowe’en, and, over time, evolved into a day of activities such as carving pumpkin lanterns, festive gatherings, wearing costumes and eating treats. Much later, in the United Kingdom, the state decided it needed to celebrate the King NOT being blown up in Parliament, and instituted the annual celebration of Bonfire Night. Guy Fawkes was actually burned to death (after a great deal of torture) in January 1606, but the chance to link the celebration of his death to Samhain was too good to miss, and November 5th it has been ever since.

We should probably know more about this ancient Celtic festival and how it has come to be so significant in our world.

The key features of Samhain were:

1) It marked the transition between seasons: from the lighter half of the year to the darker half.

2) It was a time when the Celts believed that the veil between the mortal world and the Otherworld was at its thinnest so the spirits and souls of the deceased could more easily cross over into the world of the living.

3) One of the most prominent features of celebrations was the lighting of bonfires, which were not only a means of protection from malevolent spirits but also symbolised the sun’s power and kept it alive as it grew weaker with the approach of winter.

4) During Samhain, the Celts would often make offerings to their ancestors and spirits. These included food, drink, and gifts to appease and honour the spirits.

5) The Celts believed that dressing up in costumes helped to confuse and ward off any malevolent spirits that might be abroad during Samhain.Other

Other Celtic Festivals

Many of our annual celebrations had their roots in Celtic festivals.

Winter solstice marked the longest night and the shortest day but it was a day of hope, the day the sun would begin to return. Celebrations included a large feast and a bringing together of family and community. This festival was given the name Yule.

Beltane (May Day) was a time to celebrate life. The theme of new life overlapped with the slightly earlier Spring equinox festival dedicated to the goddess Eostre.

Summer solstice (Midsummer Day). This event marks the longest day of the year and the peak of summer. The land is alive with life and greenery once again, and the fairy world was also close. Shakespeare’s original audience for A Midsummer Night’s Dream would have had no problem accepting the interaction between the fairy and the human world. They were not Celtic but those traditions have lasted a long time!