Halloween, being an official holiday, is celebrated with utmost zeal and enthusiasm in Ireland. When we hear or say the word “Halloween”, the things that come to our heads are those scary costumes we all plan to wear every year in October. It might baffle you a little but Halloween didn’t use to be a fun event when we look into its origin.
Halloween finds its origin right here in Ireland and is linked with Celtic & Gaelic Culture. That certainly is the reason, the festival means something much more than mere fun, enjoyment, and cosplays for the Irish.
The Samhain Festival
Celts originated on the Irish island in around 500 BC and were dominant in Ireland some 2000 years ago. During the Celtic era, the Festival of Samhain on the 31st of October used to be a major event that marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter, and thus a new year. Here are some notable aspects of the festival:
- Since the eve was regarded as a transitional phase of the two major seasons, they believed that the evil spirits would return to earth and bring about bad fortune to them. People used to dress up and disguise themselves as the so-called bad spirits to fend off the evil ones.
- Evidence also suggests that the locals used to gather around and light up massive fires to avert those spirits which, they believed, were at large on the eve of Samhain.
- One of the most interesting points is that the huge fire lit up on the eve of Samhain was, in a literal meaning, a “bonfire”. The leftover bones from the food, prepared primarily for the visiting souls, were used to erupt the massive bone-fire/bonfire.
All Saints’ Day
Regardless of what historians have figured out about Celts’ beliefs, Christians now celebrate October 31st as “All Hallows’ Eve”, an evening before the “All Saints’ Day”. That’s where the word “Halloween” originated from.
Primarily, October 31st was observed as “All Saints’ Day” in regards to and honor of all (known and unknown) saints in heaven, before it was moved to November 1st by the Roman Catholic Church. All Saints’ Day holds remarkable importance for the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, the Church denounced and demolished all the non-religious, pagan, and agnostic aspects of the day.
The original Samhain concept of Halloween is dominated almost entirely by the Legend of Stingy Jack. So much so that the “notorious” pumpkin of this myth has become a mascot of the festival. Yet, some shreds of the actual tradition are still visible such as spirit costumes & disguises.
Existing Traditions of Halloween
Remains of Samhain Tradition
As mentioned earlier, Halloween holds a massive significance for the Irish, and perhaps that’s why they have kept the remains of the Samhain tradition alive thus far. People do the cosplays of different characters from their preferred movies, anime, comics, novels, and games. They do light up their houses as well.
What Changed from the Original Tradition?
Amid these cosplays, disguises, and Halloween-themed décor, the major changes from the Celtic tradition are evident; such as,
- The costumes aren’t that scary anymore. Even if they are, the purpose behind the whole thing is to create fun and enjoyment rather than to “ward off the harmful spirits”.
- Most of the people go for that famous Jack-O’-Lantern/carved Halloween pumpkin to light up the houses.
- There are no more “bonfires made out of bones”.
“Trick or Treating” and “Snap Apple”
Both adults and children do the cosplays alike. But there’s this cute tradition of giving gifts, sweets, and candies to the children, known as “Trick or treating”. Aside from trick or treating, the “snap apple” is another game that children love to play on Halloween. The children, completely blindfolded, have to find an apple somewhere in the room. The winner is the one who finds the apple & takes the first bite and is rewarded with sweets, candies, or other adorable gifts.
Not just the children are indulged in fun games, girls also love to go blindfolded and find their life partner via a unique Irish game. Here’s how it works:
You will go blindfolded and roam around in a cabbage field. Your task is to pull out cabbage with the longest roots and maximum soil onto it, which determines how wealthy your partner is going to be. Furthermore, take a bite from the cabbage to reveal the nature of your partner. But hey, don’t be sad if it is bitter, since it’s just a game and is far from reality.
Barmbrack Cake is yet another interesting traditional game specific to the natives of Ireland. A fruity delicious cake is prepared with pieces of rag, a ring, and a coin placed in it. The cake is then cut into pieces precisely so that everyone in the house gets a slice with either a rag, a ring, or a coin. Rag symbolizes a doubtful future; so, bad news for you if you get one. The ring refers to a successful & blessed married life with an ideal life partner. While, the coin represents wealth; and thus, remains the most desirable one.
Halloween in Ireland is certainly a unique experience. Their traditions aren’t much similar to those of the American ones. Yet, that’s what has enabled the Irish to flaunt their distinctiveness. The concept of Halloween has been altered in so many ways over the centuries, yet the real essence of “All Hallows Eve” is prominent only in Ireland.