The Celtic (Irish) New Year or the traditional feast of Samhain is celebrated on the 1st of November every year and is perhaps one of the most important Celtic feasts. The Celts were a great believer of the cycle of death and rebirth; hence their year was divided into two parts; light and dark.
Samhain literally translates to “ the end of summer” and ushers the winter season, as after the dark night, a bright day begins, in a similar manner after the dead of the winter comes the blooming harvest Spring/Summer season, hence Samhain celebrates new beginnings.
Historical Roots of the Celtic New Year
The Celts strongly believed that Samhain was essentially a gap in time and in much conjunction with popular Halloween beliefs which falls on the eve of Samhain, it was the night time when the two parallel worlds of the dead and the living could come together in conjunction. The Celts hence believed that Samhain was the time when the dead could come into the living world, and be a part of the world, their homes that they had left behind.
Celtic New Year Traditions
- The Celts were great believers of mysticism and divination; hence an important aspect of the Celtic New Year is the acceptance and welcoming of the ancestors into the households.
- Hazelnuts would be used as a part of the ritual, as they symbolized the wisdom of fortune telling.
- Some other popular Samhain rituals included references to the Emhain Abhlach which means the Paradise of Apples, as the Celts believed that Emhain Abhlach was the place where the dead achieved immortality by the consumption of apples which were considered to be a sacred fruit.
- The custom of appeasing the spirits of the ancestors can be found in many religions and cultural communities around the world, the Celts are no exception to this; traditional Samhain customs demand that adequate respect and homage be paid to ancestral spirits. In order to appease the ancestors, food and drinks would be prepared for them and the doors of the house were left open, for them to pass by.
- It was also believed that not all spirits were supposed to be benevolent; hence the people would carve the image of guardian spirits into turnips and hang them at their door. This practice has evolved into the common practice of carving pumpkins and making Jack ‘o’ Lanterns out of them on Halloween.
Celebrating Celtic New Year’s Eve:
The Celtic New Year’s Eve or Oidche Shamhna is an integral part of the celebrations of the Celtic New Year as it was a symbol of communal togetherness. The harvest that had been gathered would be collected as cattle would be slaughtered for the feats of Samhain. Most communities would organize a form of communal gatherings, and a giant bonfire would be organized with families warming their housed out of hearths that were righted from the giant bonfire. Hence Samhain was the time for families to come together, and celebrate the holidays by dancing and singing of Celtic songs that had been passed through generations.
The Celtic New Year Celebrations
Some of the popular traditions that are associated with the Celtic New Year are as follows:
- A popular tradition is banging the walls and doors of the household with bread, as it is said to drive away the bad luck of the past and fill the house with the good spirits with the hope for the New Year to bring in enough abundance.
- With the rise of Christianity the Celtic New Year celebration evolved into the Halloween celebrations that we know of today, which is also known as All Saints’ Day and is followed by All Soul’s Day.
- People dress up in costumes, mostly strange attires and indulge in the activities associated with Halloween celebrations.
- Some communities have still kept alive the traditional lighting of bonfires and gathering around them dancing and singing songs of the Celtic past.