What Are Ancient Samhain Traditions?

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What Are Ancient Samhain Traditions?

The inspiration for modern-day Halloween, Samhain, was an ancient Celtic festival that marked the end of the harvest. This was one of four quarterly fire celebrations and was considered to be the most important.

During this time, it was believed the veil between the supernatural and the real world was at its thinnest. Therefore, practices and traditions were carried out to ensure protection against this magic.

Let’s take a look at some of the traditions that defined Samhain.

5 Ancient Samhain Traditions


After the harvest was complete, the entire town would come together, alongside Druid priests, to light a community bonfire. Dancing and feasts would take place around this fire, as people celebrated the start of the season of darkness.

The bonfire also acted as a way to welcome the spirits that were able to walk the Earth at this time. Spirits of their deceased friends and family came searching for food and comfort and were largely considered the “good” spirits.

This festival was mandatory, for those who failed to participate would be punished by the gods, usually through illness or death.


During the harvest, the homes were left empty, thus allowing the hearths to burn out. People would take fire from the bonfire and bring it back to their homes to relight their hearths.

They would then place torches outside and walk the boundaries of their properties with a torch in hand. This would protect their homes against any evil spirits that have crossed through the veil during Samhein.


While the people were happy to welcome back the spirits of the deceased, they were fearful of the evil spirits, such as faeries, gods, and witches. Therefore, some people were said to have disguised themselves as these evil spirits to fool the real ones. This sometimes involved dressing in animal skins.


A Halloween tradition that can easily be traced back to Samhain is the jack-o-lantern. Originally carved out of turnips, there are differing accounts for the purpose of these jack-o-lanterns. However, most believe they were used to protect the home, with the scary faces designed to frighten off any spirits that meant to cause them harm.  


Another Halloween practice that derives from Samhain tradition is handing out candy. During Samhain, people were said to have carried treats in their pockets to bribe any evil spirits that they were unfortunate enough to stumble across.

The festival of Samhain had many traditions that were designed to protect them from the spirits that could access the Earth during this magical time. As you can see, many of these practices have since been passed down through generations and countries, thus influencing today’s Halloween.

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