You may be aware that Halloween is derived from the Gaelic (and more broadly, Celtic) festival of Oidhche Shamhna and Samhain. The festival, with its pre-Christian roots, commemorated the last phase of the harvest season, ancestors, and the end of the old (agricultural) year. But how much do you really know about the Samhain customs and beliefs of the Scottish Highlanders?
To dig past the commercial trappings of the modern holiday (and modern misconceptions) and get at its roots, plan to attend a free public lecture at the University of North Carolina Oct. 26 called “A’ Cnagadh Cnù na Samha: Cracking the Halloween Nut: Sensing and Making Sense of a Scottish Highland Calendar Custom.” The lecture will be delivered by Dr. Tiber Falzett, the inaugural visiting lecturer in Scottish Gaelic Studies at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Dr. Falzett will explore the unique and universal aspects of Halloween folkways among Scottish Highlanders in North America and in Scotland, using field recordings of custom and belief within Gaelic-speaking communities, newspaper editorials, and song compositions. Together, these Gaelic voices will bring to life the cultural significance of Halloween for Highland immigrant communities, providing valuable insights into the reasons for Halloween’s near-universal appeal.
Learning more about the Gaelic customs of Oidhche Shamhna will help attendees compare Halloween’s many divergent re-interpretations as it has become popularized around the world. It will also help Gaelic learners and speakers reconnect with the holiday as Scottish Highlanders and their descendants in North America celebrated it yesterday and today.
The lecture is scheduled for 6:30 pm to 8 pm in UNC’s Kenan Music Building, room 1201, at 125 S. Columbia Street in Chapel Hill. There will be a celebratory reception afterward.
The lecture also celebrates the first Scottish Heritage USA Scottish Gaelic Visiting Lectureship at UNC, a major step in advancing Scottish Gaelic Studies in the United States. The lectureship is funded by Scottish Heritage USA and is the result of a two-year campaign by the Scottish Gaelic Foundation of the USA or Gaelic USA.
Before coming to UNC this fall, Falzett, a fluent Scottish Gaelic speaker, lectured in the Department of History at the University of Prince Edward Island. He previously lectured at St. Francis Xavier University, in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where he taught courses on the folklore and ethnology of the Gaelic communities of Scotland, Ireland and Canada.
For more information, visit the lecture’s event page on Facebook.