Feliz Samain – The True Origins of Halloween

We all have biases. We can’t help it. Our perspective is rooted in where we are born, who raised us, and a thousand other set of circumstances. It’s why traveling and talking to other people, with their own unique perspectives is so important, if we are to understand each other and develop empathy. Walking in another’s shoes.

Recently, we met two American women at our local cafe in the village a few hundred meters up the road. They were very enthusiastic Peregrinas and were speaking loudly, so our heads spun around at the sound of west coast American ingles. Americans get a bad wrap for being the loudest turistas. Jeff and I are around plenty of people a cross roads of the world, and there are louder countries of origin. If I am going to generalize, which I hate doing. We got to talking to them and they said something funny.

‘Isn’t amazing how prevalent Halloween is here? They’ve really embraced the American holiday with pumpkins and candy. We’ve even seen costumes in stores.’

Jeff just looked at me and smiled. We understood her confusion.

‘You know Halloween didn’t come from the US, right?‘

She frowned and her friend shrugged. So I shared what we have learned over the years.

Samain predates Halloween, which started in central Europe. The Fiesta de Samain is a Celtic days-long holiday stretching back thousands of years. Pre-dating Christianity. Modern Halloween is a bit of a rip-off of Samain. And Galicia, much like Ireland and Scotland, is as Celtic as it gets.

The Celts believed the veil between this world and the next began to slip beginning in mid-October and reached it’s peak on the last days of the month. But the veil remained thin until mid-November. One could reach long-dead loved ones during this time. But it was also when dangerous spirits could pass through and wreak havoc. Candles were used to light the way for loved ones. Scary mask and faces on gourds were meant to deter the unwanted spirts from your home. Might be one of the reasons why Sargadelos are still so prominent here. As a talisman against negative energy. But that’s my personal supposition.

During Samain, people would leave their dinner table and not clean up the dishes or left over food. So their relatives wouldn’t go hungry during their journey from the other world to this one. The family pets probably had a feast.

In Galicia, we celebrate both Halloween and Samain. In fact, I think Samain is bigger. Especially out in the towns and villages. But that is an outsiders perspective. Halloween didn’t take hold until the 19th century in the US brought over by Irish immigrants. By global standards, we, in the US, are Halloween infants. Sure, its a big holiday, but we celebrate something when we don’t understand the actual origin. We like the fun part, not the spiritual part. Kind of like we do with Easter.

In the Celtic calendar, Samain marked the end of the year. The last full moon at this time. Leaves fell and the harvest was done. The world that they knew was going into hibernation. Until rebirth in the spring. You can read more here

***Amended to add info sent to me by my Irish friend, Donna. So interesting the etymology of our common phrases.


This is a bridge holiday weekend in Spain. Tomorrow marks a very important day. November 1st is All Saints Day. In countries around the world there will be parades tomorrow. People return to their ancestral villages and hometowns to clean the graves of those they have lost, and to remember them. There will be traffic jams at cemeteries. And florists will do a booming business. With so many losses with the pandemic these past two years, this holiday takes on particular significance.

The two Peregrinas were a little surprised. By the history lesson and the information. ‘I had no idea.’ said the one who had brought up Halloween in the first place.

I smiled. ‘I understand. I didn’t know this either. But a patient Gallego gave me the low-down. And now I’m giving it to you. If you wish people here Feliz Samain, they will know you are in the know.’😉

I tried not to bore them to death, I like history and not everyone does. And they were very nice, well-meaning people. But, I figured it might prevent them from stepping into it something between here and Santiago, offending an English-speaking local with making an America was first Halloween observation.

Like the eternal children we are, we will carve our pumpkins today and they will light up the night tonight on our front porch. One of many very stormy nights of a Galician autumn. Yet, I’ve done what these ladies did. And I’ve done it plenty over the years. But all it takes is a scratch below the surface and a little curiosity to uncover a world that just might help us understand the origins of our own a little bit better.

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