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Happy Spooky Medieval Astronomy Day!

October 30, 2013

Research & Collections

BOO! The origins of Halloween can be traced back to medieval European astronomical calendars.

Surprised? Indeed, there’s not much astronomy in sticky-fingered pint-sized ghosts knocking on your door begging for candy. But the historical roots between Halloween — or, Hallowe’en, a contraction of All Hallow’s Evening (or, All Hallow’s Eve) —  and astronomy trace back to medieval astronomical divisions of a year, and to festivals with Gaelic, Pagan, and Christian influences. In fact, the assimilation into North American culture of Halloween as we know it today, with a wide range of both frightening and humorous costumes, as well as trick-or-treating, did not happen until the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

The astronomical roots of the Gaelic, or Celtic harvest festival, Samhain — known as the “Lord of Darkness” in Ireland, from which Halloween derives, are found in its placement in the medieval calendar year as one of four cross-quarter days…

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