Three Celebrations at summer’s End: Halloween, Samhain and Guy Fawkes

Oct 19, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sharon Tucker

by Sharon Tucker

Although summer is a well-beloved season, August’s intense heat often prevails deep into September, as has been the case in 2013. In fact, as we reach mid-October here in Tennessee, leaves are still green and signs of autumn have scarcely begun. The heat, coupled with high humidity, has made for sticky days and short tempers. One longs for crisp fall weather–bright blue skies, cool days and cooler nights–and just enough rain to prolong brightly colored leaves on the trees. Surely by the end of October, our wishes will be granted and also, within two weeks’ time, we’ll have three holidays to celebrate–: Halloween, Samhain, and Guy Fawkes Day.

October 31–Halloween–is the best known of the three and often celebrated these days by escorting trick or treating children to selected homes, remembering the tampered-with candy scare that started in the 1970s. Dress-up parties are always popular, however, the origin of “Halloween” comes from a Scottish contraction of All Hallows Evening, seen as early as 1556 and followed by two days that make up the Christian Holy days of Hallowmas: All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Even Shakespeare mentions begging for cakes at Hallowmas in his Two Gentlemen of Verona. Observing Hallowmas includes the tolling of church bells for souls still in purgatory, sharing baked cakes (soul cakes) for all christened souls (which may be the origin of “trick-or-treating”), and praying for the aforementioned souls still in purgatory. The custom of wearing costumes has been said to serve as a disguise so that vengeful souls returning on Halloween cannot recognize those who have wronged them. Might Jack-o-‘lanterns represent souls of the dead?

The Gaelic festival of Samhain (pronounced sa-win or sow-in) marks the end of the season of harvests and the commencement of winter. It is celebrated from sunset of October 31 to sunset of November 1, since October 31 is mid-way between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Bonfires are lit and kept burning to cleanse and protect observers, as well as the performance of ritual livestock sacrifice and divination ceremonies. Samhain was the time of year when spirits and fairies might enter the world of the living and cause havoc–therefore setting places for departed souls at the feast of Samhain as a traditional way of remembrance. Fairies–always mischievous–were propitiated or warded-off by “guising” or wearing disguises (costumes). Over the centuries, Samhain, All-Souls and All- Saints have merged into what we celebrate as Halloween.

Guy Fawkes Day, also known as Guy Fawkes Night, Bonfire Night and Fireworks Night, is celebrated in Great Britain on November 5 for King James I’s deliverance from the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. Guy Fawkes was arrested on this night when he came to check the barrels of gunpowder he and others had placed underneath the House of Lords in an attempt to assassinate the King on the opening day of Parliament. Since James I was, like his predecessor Elizabeth I, a Protestant monarch, the plotters hoped he would die in the proposed explosion so that his daughter, Elizabeth, might ascend the throne of England, marry a Catholic prince and restore Catholicism as the predominant faith of England. Perhaps a bit far-fetched with too many contingencies, I think, but Fawkes was literally caught on the spot and summarily tortured and executed. To this day a “guy” is still burned on bonfires, fireworks are set off and children ask passersby for “a penny for the Guy?” to commemorate foiling of the Gunpowder Plot.

So take your pick or celebrate all three holidays at the end of October. After all, we are in for many cold winter months before the spring equinox and the yearly cycle starts all over again.

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Sharon Tucker is former faculty at the University of Memphis in Memphis TN, and now enjoys evening supervising in that campus library. Having forsworn TV except for online viewing and her own movies, she reads an average of 3 to 4 books per week and has her first novel—a mystery, of course—well underway.


  1. How interesting, thanks for info!

  2. MY pleasure. It’s good to connect with the past regarding holidays, etc. and how customs have evolved.
    I so love Halloween and like to celebrate it to the hilt. Might get into Samhain some day. However I think I’ll leave Guy Fawkes bonfires to the Brits.


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