Samhain Festival

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Samhain Festival

***** Location: Ireland
***** Season: Autumn
***** Category: Observance


(November 1st), mostly the West of Ireland.

In other parts celebrated as All Saints's Day.

Samhain (pronounced 'saun' from the old Irish samain) is the word for November in the Gaellic languages. The Scottish Gaellic spelling is Samhainn or Samhuinn (for the feast), or an t-Samhain (for the month). Samhain, meaning Summer's End, is the Celtic festival held on November 1st, which is generally regarded as 'The Celtic New Year.' The Festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Celtic culture. It was celebrated with bonfires throughout centuries. In early Ireland, people gathered at the ritual centers of the tribes, for Samhain was the principal calendar feast of the year.

The greatest assembly was the 'Feast of Tara,' focusing on the royal seat of the High King as the heart of the sacred land, the point of conception for the new year. In every household throughout the country, hearth-fires were extinguished. Even today, one can see bonfires lighting up the skies in Ireland, as well as in many parts of Britain at this season.

Despite the fact that the dates of the ancient Celtic Samhain and the Christian All Saints' Day coincide, the significant difference between them is that Samhain recognises the evil spirits, whereas Hallowmas recognises those that were good. While Samhain was (and is) a time to fear the spirits of the dead, All Saints' Day continues to be a time to celebrate life.

Anatoly Kudryavitsky

Worldwide use

Things found on the way


T-shirts on the line
November wind tries on
a "Samhain" one

Anatoly Kudryavitsky
(from 'Morning at Mount Ring', DOGHOUSE Books, 2007)

Related words

***** All Saints’ Day

***** All Souls' Day


(The Day After Samhain, i.e. November 2nd)

In Ireland, it was once widely believed that the souls of the faithful departed would return to their family home on All Soul's Night. Great care was taken to make them feel welcome.
Rituals included sweeping the floor clean, lighting a good fire, and placing the poker and tongs in the shape of a cross on the hearth. A bowl of spring water was put on the table, along with a place setting for each deceased relative. In some areas, children would go "soul-caking" - they'd visit neighbors and beg for cakes in exchange for prayers to be said for the dead.

Families would usually retire early, but before they did, many of them went to the cemetery where their loved ones were buried. They would say prayers for each departed family member, make sure the gravesites were neat and tidy, and then they would leave a candle burning on each grave.

During evening prayers, the family would again light a candle for each of their departed relatives . Often, a candle would be placed in the window of a room where a relative had died. Or, it might be placed in a window that faced in the direction of the cemetery. Then, when evening prayers were over, the candles would either be extinguished or left to burn out.

by Bridget Heggarty
(from www.irishcultureandcustoms.com)

All Souls' Day
shabby old man talks
to a statue's shadow

Anatoly Kudryavitsky
(from 'Morning at Mount Ring', DOGHOUSE Books, 2007)


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