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Photo: Samhain by John Anster Fitzgerald

The Re-Branding of the Celtic Harvest Festival of "Samhain"​ as Halloween

Before there was Halloween there was "Samhain". An ancient pagan ritual marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. Traditionally, it is celebrated from 31 October to 1 November.


Samhain, a day in which the veil between our world and the other world would thin to allow spirits to cross into our domain, these spirits were considered mischievous and sometimes dangerous like fairies, these spirits are said to be "leftovers" of different ancient gods from religions in which people don't partake anymore, but that still made them feel some degree of respect and fear, and so they believed that the spirits needed to be satiated so the people and the livestock would survive the harsh winter, so offering of tasty fruit and drinks were left outside to put the spirit into a good mood and have the spirit happily pass by (tricks for treats).


Even after the Romans had taken over Britain in 43 BCE, the celebration of "Samhain" remained alive and thriving within the new mix of cultures, as "Samhain" closely resembled an old pagan ritual of the Romans themselves, the Autumn festival of "Pomona" the goddess of fruits, held around November 1st.


Around the 7th century pope Boniface VIII, decided he didn't like this anymore (not good for business) and wanted to make everything allot more "Christian" and in an effort to substitute the old ritual of the pagans for the Christian sponsored celebration, he declared that Nov 1st from thereon would be known as "All Saints Day." And you may not know but another name for a "Saint" is a "Hallow", so this celebration was christened "All Hallows Day" meaning that October the 31st would now be "All Hallows Eve" . . . And eventually "All Hallows Eve" became shortened to "Halloween."


History can be an unsavory tale of lands invaded and cultures lost, all will tale for a worthy cause . . . But what is this cause? - Behind it all there is expansion: growth of a countries power, acquisition of assets and propagation of a system of beliefs. It sounds familiar doesn't it? It sounds like a business! And within a business there will always be core beliefs, branding, product development, marketing, sales and customer retention. In this case the old pagan ritual was not helping the church propagate it's set of beliefs, so like any great business, it creatively found a way to re-interpret the popular product in the market and substitute it with a branded product of their own.

How did they achieve success ? 

  • Identify: Keep the important features,: A date that unified both cultures, the core of the ritual, spirits, after life, celebratory nature.
  • Conceptualize: Take the core of the ritual and wrap it around Christian concepts.
  • Launch: Launch the re-packaged product under the Christian church label.
  • Market: Establish this new product with a successful marketing campaign, remain consistent with the message.
  • Customer Retention: Keep broadcasting the message through the marketing channels available: Church visits, sermons, town speakers, town hall meetings, political messaging, etc.

And now, we have a very popular pseudo Holiday called Halloween that is celebrated by millions across the world, generating great revenues for many business sectors thanks to the centuries long effort of re-branding an ancient seasonal festivity.


Photo: Samhain by John Anster Fitzgerald

For a full history of the Samhain festival, please click here

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