October 31st, Halloween, the night which gives us all an excuse to dress up in our most ghoulish and ghastly costumes and go from house to house asking for candies and treats. But is there more to Halloween than scaring each other silly with ghost stories and carving pumpkins?
In 9th Century England, and in other Christian societies at the time, October 31st was known as All Hallows’ Eve. Derived from Old English, ‘hallowed’ meaning holy or sanctified, it was known as a day of vigil and fasting in preparation for the celebration of All Saints’ Day on the 1st of November.
However, long before the advent of Christianity, Halloween was celebrated by the Pagans. The 31st of October was also the date of the ancient celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the winter preparations. November is marked in many Anglo-Saxon calendars as the blodmonath (blood month), the time in which most farm animals were butchered and preserved for lasting throughout the cold winter months.
Samhain also marked the feast of the dead, the time when the barrier between the living and the dead was at its weakest, and communication between both worlds was possible. Communities could remember the lives of all those that they had lost the previous year, as well as calling on their ancestors and their gods. But it was also a time when those spirits and ghosts with mischief on their mind could play their tricks on the living as well.
It is probably through the similarities in the pagan practice of communicating with the dead during Samhain and the Christian practice of praying to their own long dead saints and martyrs on All Saints’ Day, that All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints’ Day were moved in the 9th century. In 835, Pope Gregory IV moved the Christian holy day of All Saints’ Day from the 13th May to the 1st of November. Samhain then became All Hallow’s Eve, a time of spiritual preparation and reflection for the Christian festival that followed on the next day.
All Hallow’s Eve is also a very important date in Viking and York History. It was the eve of the first recorded Viking attack on York, the subject of my historical fiction novel, The Northumbrian Saga. Tomorrow marks the 1147th anniversary of the attack (almost 1150 years! Hope this website is still around for that!) and to celebrate, The Northumbrian Saga will be FREE from NOW (midnight AWST) until tomorrow night at midnight. That means you have 48 hrs to get your copy and spread the word to friends and family so that they can get their FREE copies too.
So whether you are marking tonight with a special prayer, a sacrifice, or with a costume you have been waiting all year to wear (or reading my book?), I hope everyone has a great time!
Stay safe and happy Halloween!