Why the Celebration of Samhain is not tied to the October 31 date of Halloween

Kaycee Wilson published an article on August 6th, 2019 in Affinity Magazine titled “Before you sign the petition, remember the origins of Halloween.” Out of the blue, R sent a text and link to the article asking me to

Please! Please tackle this… They think moving trick or treating would screw up pagan holiday timing. It feels like they don’t know Samhain is a moveable feast in the first place.

Many people commented on the article on Affinity’s website. Most were in favor of the petition seeking to separate Halloween + Trick or Treating from the roots of the Halloween that stem from a combination of Samhain (props to Wilson for recognizing the Celtic origins) and the papal decree creating All Saints Day. As far as I can tell, Wilson wrote about her reactions to the initial petition which is not the same as the changed petition (which we support if you were wondering.) It’s tough to press pause on our reactions, and do the hard research it takes to fact check ourselves, however, that pause is vital to unbiased journalism. Maybe Wilson wanted her article to be an opinion piece and that’s okay. That’s a different kind of editorial journalism altogether. Access to more historical information encourages greater understanding. That’s the purpose of this response article.

First, Samhain is a moveable feast celebrating the last harvest of the growing season as had been practiced, informally among family and formally among the community, for time immemorial. Since it was related to feasting the end of harvest, the timing reflected when the final harvest and stockpiling tasks were complete. This was not related to a specific, established or accepted calendar; pagans relied on the stars as most people did before the Romans chose to establish an official calendar for their empire. We operate under the Gregorian Calendar which was approved by the Church (that’s the Catholic Church headed in the Vatican) to standardize how its believers calculated the passage of time so that certain festivals, etc, would happen at the same time. That’s how October became the 10th month of the year. The holiday celebration predates the Gregorian calendar so it’s okay to move Halloween to the last Saturday of October. It’s always been moveable.

Hay-Stacks-Samhain-Halloween
Photo credit: @yearuzzaman https://unsplash.com/photos/PBPlDQd5SwQ

Secondly, All Hallowed Eve was the Church’s attempt to absorb this particular harvest celebration into an established Christian celebration, tying it to the evening before All Saints Day. This was a fairly common papal practice that worked to both transition non-Christians to Christianity, and to help the new converts keep the faith instead of reverting to non-establishment celebrations. The timeline in the Roman Catholic Church begins with Pope Boniface IV dedicating the Pantheon for Christian martyrs and establishing a feast day on May 13, 609 AD. All Martyrs Day was later moved to Nov 1 to include Catholic Saints and renamed All Saints Day by Pope Gregory III. The Romans previously (before Constantine’s conversion and the following conversion of the Empire) feasted Pomona following the final harvest around what is now early November. Let’s not forget Osiris and the extended celebrations of Ancient Egypt. At about 1000 AD Catholicism expanded into Celtic lands, following which Samhain, Pomona, All Souls Day and All Saints Day were lumped together to bring pagans into one celebrating faith called Christianity. It kind of worked.

To add in a dash of linguistics, Americans spoke English but over time it morphed (as all languages do) into nearly a different language; an expansion of the dialect process. In essence, American English was born from space and time separating America from England. All Hallows Eve is a term in early American English related directly to the papal decree denoting it. The term was shortened by the heavily accented speech of early Americans from Hallowed Evening (the night preceding All Saint’s Day) to Hallow’e’en.

Wilson’s article argues that the petition to establish a national Trick or Treat day on the last Saturday of October would mess up the pagan celebration of Samhain, but the pagan harvest festival, tied to whichever agrarian culture you choose (most often northern European, specifically the Celts), is not a date on the calendar. It is a festival to celebrate the finishing of the harvest, the closeness to ancestors who no longer walk the Earth with us, and a chance to reconnect with the community surrounding oneself.

TLDR:

  1. We support the change.org petition to create a national festival for trick or treating activities to land on the last Saturday in October (replacing the Oct 31st date).
  2. Halloween is not Samhain. Here is another post about that…
  3. The more people that understand the true history of the holiday, and that of All Hallows Eve/Halloween, the greater the respect between individuals of various faiths.

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