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It’s common for people to think that Samhain and Halloween are the same holiday.
There are a lot of similarities, and there is a historical tie between them. But are they really the same holiday?
Even though there are a lot of similarities, they actually aren’t the same holiday.
Not only that, but there are other similar holidays that are celebrated in other cultures around the world.
Samhain And Halloween Around The World
The concept of a time of year where our ancestors visit us and we ward off evil spirits is actually a world-wide one.
It might not always be celebrated in Autumn, but these kinds of holidays can be found almost everywhere.
In Japan, and especially Kyoto, there is a holiday called Daimonji or Gozan no Okuribi that occurs in August.
At this time, the souls of the dead return to visit their family.
Another holiday in Nepal is celebrated in late summer.
This festival, called Gai Jatra, is a time to honor those that died in the last year.
China has a festival in the seventh month of their lunar calendar that is called the Hungry Ghost Festival.
During this festival, people offer paper gifts that are shaped like food, money, and other forms of wealth.
These paper riches are burned so that they can be given to the ghosts that return at this time.
As you can see, there are a lot of similarities between these holidays, but none of them are exactly the same.
That can be said of Samhain and Halloween, as well.
The holidays are different based on cultural and religious influences.
Halloween’s Origins In Samhain
The word Halloween comes from a poem by Robert Burns.
The etymology is easy to suss out as well: Hallow refers to the saints celebrated on November 1, also known as All Saints’ Day. ‘Een’ is just another way to say ‘eve’.
So Halloween literally translates to the evening before All Saints’ Day.
What does Samhain mean?
The etymology of Samhain is harder to understand.
When you go through the history of the word, from Irish through Proto-Celtic all the wayy back to older languages like Proto-Indo-European or Sanskrit, it could mean either “together” or “summer”.
The possible folk etymology of Samhain is that it means “summers end”.
The word Samhain is still used in modern Irish to refer to the month of November.
What it means spiritually, however, is easier to figure out.
Samhain is the time when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead thins or lifts, and spirits come to visit their family or perhaps their enemies.
People celebrating Samhain leave offerings to the dead or to the gods to protect themselves from these spirits and to honor them.
How Old Is Samhain?
Samhain was first celebrated in Gaelic Ireland as one of four seasonal festivals.
There is a mound in Ireland called the Mound of the Hostages that is aligned with the rising sun around Samhain.
This mound is 4500 to 5000 years old, which could mean that Samhain was celebrated in Ireland as far back as 5000 years ago!
Samhain has been called the Celtic new year.
There is some argument on this, but Diwali, a Hindu holiday celebrated around the same time as Samhain, is the Hindu new year.
Personally, I do see Samhain as the start of a new year and the end of the old one.
This is why Samhain is known as the witch’s new year, as well.
The reality, though, as that the start of one year and the end of the previous is just a social construct.
It doesn’t matter when it’s celebrated. Some witches prefer to see Yule as the new year.
Maybe some prefer Ostara as the new year. Go with what feels right to you!
This is likely related to Samhain.
The Gaulish calendar was split into two halves, and the first half started in Samonios.
Happy Samhain And Halloween!
There are many ways to celebrate Samhain.
If this is your first year celebrating Samhain, all of the options can easily overwhelm you!
The easiest way to celebrate this time of year is to burn an offering to the gods or to the dead.
Every year, I leave out apples for the spirits of the land, as well.
Here are some of my other posts on this wonderfully witchy holiday:
- Halloween / Samhain Decor Ideas For Witches
- Making Happy Halloween a Sacred Samhain
- Samhain Activities For Solitary Witches