To look at a modern calendar, you'd think the first Romans couldn't count very well. Today, for example, is the first day of November, the eleventh month of the year. But the name "November" means ninth month. The name's a holdover from the earliest Roman calendar, in which the year began with March.
The start of the year was moved to January about a century before the time of Julius Caesar, and Caesar reaffirmed that order when he instituted the basic calendar that's still used today. But the names of the months remained the same -- even though some of them no longer made sense -- like November.
In today's calendar, November 1st is just another day. But to the ancient Celts, it marked the beginning of a new season -- and a new year. Summer ended on October 31st, when the cattle and sheep were brought in from the pasturelands. Winter -- and the new year -- started the next day.
This new year's day was known as Samhain [SAV-in]. The Celts lit bonfires to help the Sun, which seemed to be growing colder and more distant as the long nights of winter approached.
Because it was like a crack in time -- a dividing line between seasons as well as years -- Samhain was a time when the souls of the dead were thought to roam the earth. Families opened tombs to release friendly spirits, and brought them food. People wore masks to hide themselves from evil spirits. Many of the traditions of Samhain remain with us today -- as part of Halloween.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009
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