How Offal And Alcohol Gave Us Halloween

We might not gather around the dining table for a family meal during Halloween much, but that’s precisely why we have this creepy celebration in the first place. Today a bit of pumpkin carving and candy eating are the only leftover relics from an ancient ghastly feast that took place on the last night before winter.


Summer’s end, or Samhain, is an ancient Celtic festival which marked the end of harvest and summer season, as well as the coming of winter’s dark days. In these ancient times, Celts living in the regions of Brittany, Wales, Ireland, England, Scotland and Northern France relied mostly on herding and hunting for food. Every year the animals in these herds were slaughtered for the upcoming winter reserves, whilst the remains, everything from brain to eyeball, were cooked and feast on during the last couple of days of summer. While everyone gnawed on things like pig’s heads and trotters, large quantities of alcohol and fermented milk were consumed. Soon these macabre scenes, aided by severely intoxicated minds, conjured visions of a scary afterlife where spirits of ancestors, who possess powers of fortunetelling, were wandering among the living.

In the hope of making contact with their departed members of the family, villagers made offers of food and drink to their ancestors, but to prevent visits from any undesirable spirits, the living would wear ghoulish disguises in the hope to be mistaken for spirits themselves. The costumed villagers would then form a parade at hopes of leading the undesirable spirits out from the village.

A couple of centuries later these events became part of pagan beliefs.

Over the years famous philosophers gave us some insights into these Celts drinking habits during festivals.

In the 4th century BC Plato sighted the Celts as heavy drinkers, “ I am not discussing the drinking of wine nor drinking in general, but outright drunkenness, and whether we ought to follow the custom of the Scythians and Persians, and also the Carthaginians, Celts, Iberians, and Thracians, all very warlike peoples, or be like you Spartans, who, as you claim, abstain totally from drink.“

Posidonius gives us an idea of what they were drinking around 100 BC, “The drink of choice among the wealthy is wine brought from Italy or the region of Massalia (the Greek colony ay Marseilles). It is normally drunk unmixed with water, although sometimes water is added. Most of the rest of the population drinks a plain, honeyed beer, which is called corma. They use a common cup, sipping only a little at a time, but sipping frequently. The servant carries the cup around from right to left. In the same direction, they honour their gods, turning to the right.”

And Diodorus Siculus explain how Celt’s drinking habits shaped their appearance, ”Some shave their beards while others allow a short growth, but nobles shave their cheeks and allow the moustache to grow until it covers the mouth. The result is that their moustaches become mixed with food while they eat, but serve as a sort of strainer when they drink.”


Another harvest festival, Pomona, stretches back to early Ancient Rome times. Pomona was the Ancient Rome goddess of orchards and harvest. On November 1st, the Romans celebrated her with offerings of apples, nuts, along with other orchard fruits. Apples were believed to be a symbol of love and fertility.

All Saints Day

Due to the Pomona festivals proximity to Samhain, both vacations converged after the Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD. As Romans and Celts mingled during the following hundreds of years, Samhain and Pomona merged into a single holiday. When Christianity started to grow through Europe, the previous harvest parties turned into a Christian celebration known as the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. In 835 AD, the Ancient Rome Catholic Church made November 1st, then known as Hallowmas, a religious holiday to honour the saints. As the convention grew at later years, young men would travel door to door sing songs in exchange for money, meals or ale on the eve of Hallowmas.

Today the practice of wearing costumes on Halloween continued as a way to honour the saints, as opposed to warding off unwelcome spirits.