Sunday, October 23, 2011


A little bit about Samhain (English: sam-HAYN, Irish: SOW-en):

Samhain is a Gaelic harvest festival held between October 31st and November 1st and has connections with other Celtic cultures. Traditionally Samhain was meant to be a celebration of the end of the harvest season and a time to give thanks for a good crop, also marking the end of the lighter days and the beginning of darker days. Historically, those who participated in Samhain were those who dealt in agriculture, and they would light bonfires as a means of purification.

It is now widely regarded as a Pagan celebration and associated with witches, and although Neo-Pagans do celebrate this as a sort of holiday, there are many negative presumptions by the general public. When Christianity was beginning to blossom, one of the ways in which its followers thought it would be easier to make the transition between Paganism and Christianity was to just blend the holidays and beliefs a little bit, somewhat to make the new religion feel more familiar. Because the Catholic All Saint's Day, now called All Hallows' Day, was held on November 1st, Samhain and All Saint's Day were closely associated with each other since the 8th century. Both Samhain and All Saint's Day have influenced modern Halloween customs.

Old Irish literature suggests Samhain was being celebrated in the 10th century. Not only did Samhain mark the end of harvest and the beginning of winter, it also marked the end of the season for trade and warfare. Many tribes in Old Ireland would gather on this date. Today, certains parts of the Samhain festival have survived. Many now participate in the "festival of the dead," a religious celebration. Many of the agricultural traditions still hold.

The meaning of Samhain:
Samhain is the Irish word for November, and the Modern Irish word Samhain was derived from refers to the 1st of November, the festival, and the royal assembly all held on November 1st in medieval times. Samhain can mean "summer's  end," or "season's end." Samhain is also known as the "Celtic New Year."

Samhain and Halloween:
It was Gaelic custom to wear costumes or masks, and some would blacken their faces and wear white. This was in order to look like evil spirits and the dead, so that the dead, if they walked beside the living, would not harm anyone. It was believed that the veil between the living and the dead was weakened during Samhain, and because of this, table settings were often reserved for ghosts of ancestors. Turnips were also carved out to make candles and some turnips had faces and were placed in the windows to keep evil spirits away. Children would go door-to-door in costumes, the turnip lanterns lighting their way, sometimes pulling pranks, mainly perfoming entertainment, in exchange for food or money. Also, many still attend bonfires during this time of year. These traditions were brought to America when the Irish and Scottish immigrated.

When the Catholic All Saint's Day became known as All Hallow's Day, and then All Soul's Day was known to be November 2nd, the 31st of October became known as All Hallow's Eve. It later became known as Halloween, a secular holiday. Halloween comes from the Scottish words for All Hallow's Eve.

Samhain as a baby name:
I know what you're thinking. "There's no way!" Right? But how can you ignore the cute nickname Sam, or the link to Irish or Scottish heritage, or the sense of holiday? Like naming your baby Christmas when they are born of Christmas Eve or Day, naming your baby Samhain might make seasonal sense if they are born between October 31st and November 2nd. Just saying, it's worth thinking about. I think it is a beautiful, historically rich baby name option. There were no babies named Samhain in 2010 or 2011.


  1. Well I have to say I agree. My baby boy was born on Halloween and we chose Samhain for his name. It is a beautiful word, I like the irish link and the fact it means 'summers end'. He is known as Sam but I am sure I will get fed up of people assuming it is short for Samuel or Samson, it is just so unusual!

  2. Our baby girl was born in November and we named her Samhain - we're Irish so we pronounce it as in in Gaelige ( Irish /Gaelic) Sow-en ( rhymes with 'how'). It's never used as a name here in Ireland so people just think it's a bit odd but I've always loved how sonorous it is. I have to say I don't really like the sound of the anglisised pronunciation of it used in the US - it just sounds a bit weird to my Irish ears!!But still, it's lovely to see it used for girl or boy.