As everyone knows, today is Halloween. However, you may NOT know that Halloween is one of most favorite holidays! Who doesn’t love a chance to dress up and be whoever you want to be for an entire night, have no one judge you for it, AND get tons of free candy and not have to feel guilty about eating it? There are probably some scrooges who don’t, however I absolutely love it. I was very worried coming over to Ireland this semester that Halloween wouldn’t be as big of deal as it is in the states. This being said, I was pleasantly surprised this week when almost every night I stumbled upon people walking in and out of pubs with costumes ranging anywhere from Where’s Waldo to cotton candy. I wanted to do a little bit of research on my own about the history of Halloween in Ireland and see if there was anything different about the traditions and upbringing than the ones in the United States. I was very interested into what I found…
Halloween originally came from the 2,000 year-old Celtic festival of Samhain, which comes from the old Irish language meaning “end of summer.” The Pagan Irish worshipped the natural cycle of life with emphasis on solar and lunar cycles and the changing of the seasons. It was a time used by the ancient pagans to stock up on supplies and get ready for the winter months. They believed that on Samhain, the veil between this world and the next was at its weakest and the spirits of the dead ancestors could pass through. The Celts believed it was the day that the dead revisited the mortal world. It marked the end of summer and the start of the winter months on the Celtic calendar. Huge feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. Samhain was celebrated by wearing costumes, most likely animal heads and skins, to disguise themselves as evil spirits and avoid kidnapping by the real harmful spirits who were out prowling for innocent people. Huge bonfires would be lit to help guide the friendly spirits. In Ireland specifically, people went about before nightfall collecting items for Samhain feasts and sometimes wore costumes while doing so. This was probably where the tradition of “trick-or-treating” originated, in which children wear costumes and go to houses and collect candy. In 19th century Ireland, a man dressed as a white mare would lead youths door-to-door collecting food; by giving these children food, the household could expect good fortune from the ‘Muck Olla.’
Along with trick-or-treating, carving jack-o’-lanterns may also have sprung from Celtic beliefs. Turnip lanterns, sometimes with faces carved into them, were made on this holiday in the 19th century in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. As well as being used to lights one’s way while outside on Samhain night, they may also have been used to represent the spirits and/or to protect oneself and one’s home from evil.
The Halloween that we see today is now a very westernized version of what we originally saw back then in Ireland. However, North American almanacs of the late and early 19th century give no indication that Halloween was celebrated there. The Puritans in New England, for example, maintained strong opposition toward the tradition of Halloween and it was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that it was brought to North America in full force. Confined to the immigrant communities during the mid-19th century, it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the 20th century, it was being celebrated coast to coast by all people of various backgrounds.
All this being said, I’d like to give a big THANK YOU to the Irish for basically creating the framework for the Halloween celebration we know today. So when all of you are out trick-or-treating tonight, you can remember the history of this day and appreciate celebrating it in the country that provided the origins of this awesome holiday.