According to some, Samhain is today, October 31st, according to others its tomorrow, November 1st, and people will discuss the merits of each day, and even add another day and make Samhain a three-day celebration. Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season, and the beginning of the winter season, and there are all sorts of traditions to look back at one and look forward to the new cycle of the year. In Tudor times they celebrated Hallowtide, All Hallows, All Saints and All Souls. I guess the most well-known and obvious and most dislocated from the original, is the way Halloween is celebrated.
Whatever its called, the celebration of the end of the light half of the year and the beginning of the dark winter half begins, The end of this period is in the spring, Beltane. “It is one of the two “spirit-nights” each year, the other being Beltane. It is a magical interval when the mundane laws of time and space are temporarily suspended, and the Thin Veil between the worlds is lifted. Communicating with ancestors and departed loved ones is easy at this time, for they journey through this world on their way to the Summerlands.”
There are many traditions and customs associated with this time of year, in most of the northern countries of the world, customs involving fire and candles, offerings of seasonal fruits and vegetables, people dressing up and disgusting themselves with blackened faces or masks, and often dressing up as the opposite gender! There were pranks and tricks played, but not with the veiled threat of trick or treat, which has obviously grown up out of these old customs, mixing being naughty and rebellious and appeasing the mischievous! It was a time of fun and merry-making before the dark, cold and hungry months, relieved only by Christmas, another festival of light and eating and enjoying, and giving and receiving.
Hallowtide was particularly marked by people in Tudor times; The Celts believed that this time of year was full of supernatural activity and would build bonfires to frighten the spirits away, using fire to protect themselves; bonfire making continued to Tudor times and beyond until it was taken over by Guy Fawkes night! By the times of the Tudor, the Christian church had taken over the ritual of this time of year as a way to help the souls of those in purgatory. Bells were rung in churches to comfort the souls in purgatory (just as noise had been made before to frighten the spirits of the dead) and people would pray for the souls of the dead and make charitable gifts. Special bread was baked for the poor who, in return were expected to pray for the souls of the departed; these loaves were called soul cakes. This continued through until the 1800’s and an aspect of it continued after that with people going from house to house singing souling rhymes in return for cakes, apples, drink, or money but I don’ suppose they played a trick on those who didn’t give!