Why Halloween is an “inter-shift” holiday, what it has to do with our night sky

While otherworldly spooky symbols like ghosts and goblins may reign supreme in our modern Halloweens, many people don’t know that October 31st can actually trace its roots back to the stars.

Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, largely evolved from the ancient Celtic observance of Samhain: a harvest festival and a “cross-quarter” day, making it a festival of astronomy, explains EarthSky.org.

The cross days mark the quarterly points midway between the equinoxes and the solstices – when the sun is at its northernmost or southernmost point on the horizon.

This means that there are eight major seasonal subdivisions each year, according to mainstream astronomy. These include the March (spring) and September (autumn) equinoxes, the June (summer) and December (winter) solstices, and the four intervening days in between: February 2 (known as Candlemas, Imbolc or Groundhog Day), May 1 (May Day or Beltane), August 1 (Lammas) and October 31 (Samhain or Halloween).

These dates on the calendar are all related to the Earth’s orbit around the sun. But there is another astronomical connection to Halloween: some believe that Samhain took place on the night the Pleiades star cluster peaked in the sky at midnight.

Also known as the “Seven Sisters”, the Pleiades cluster is associated with the onset of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, as this is when its hazy blue glow can be easily seen. All night long.

In our present time, the Pleiades cluster does not reach its climax, also known as the climax, until late November – but in the 11th and 12th centuries, this climax and Samhain would have occurred at the roughly the same date, according to EarthSky.

As a nod to the early origins of Halloween, you can keep your eyes peeled for the so-called Seven Sisters when you’ve completed the trick or treat: simply head away from bright city lights, like a dark sky or rural reserve. and gaze above the eastern horizon. (A stargazing app like Star Walk, Star Tracker, and SkyView can help.) Use binoculars or a telescope to count the many stars in the cluster, or just observe with the naked eye to admire the icy glow of the Pleiades.


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