Why and How People Celebrate Halloween In Ireland?
Though Halloween has been greatly Americanized in recent years , it is important to remember that this annual event has its roots in the Celtic Autumn festival which was held on the first day of November or what was known as Samhain in Irish. The 1st of November was known as ‘All Hallows Day’ and the word ‘Halloween’ itself means ‘holy’ or ‘hallowed’ evening with this day traditionally marked the beginning of winter in Celtic Ireland. The souls of the dead were said to revisit their homes on this night and offerings of food and drink would traditionally have been offered for them. This would be followed by eating, drinking and games which we still see evidence of on the last day of October each year.
It is thought that the tradition of going from house to house in costume (disguise) which we still have today can be traced back to the 16th century and it is possible that this was in impersonation of the souls of the dead calling from house to house. ‘Trick or Treating’ is a customary tradition here in Ireland and beyond and involves children knocking on doors and asking for treats such as sweets or money. The question implies the threat of a trick being played on the homeowner if they fail to comply and it is not unheard of for houses to be pelted with eggs or flour if no treat is offered. This practice has links to ‘souling’ which once involved groups going from house to house asking for ‘soul cakes’ in exchange for prayers for the souls of the dead.
Each Halloween in Ireland, people still dress up as ghosts, vampires or other sinister beings though these days you are as likely to see someone impersonating Donald Trump or Elvis Presley, again due to the increasing Americanization of this ancient Celtic pagan festival. However, the practice of wearing costumes at Halloween is also thought to have been influenced by Christianity. However images of skeletons and ghosts are strongly associated with Halloween and many Irish homes will decorate their homes with them each year.
Pumpkins are also a common sight at the end of October and are a symbol of the Halloween festival. They are often hollowed out and a face carved into their side before they are filled with a candle which creates an appealingly spooky effect when lit. It is thought that this tradition can be dated back to the 19th century when turnips were hollowed out and used as lanterns to guide the way from house to house. The fact that pumpkins are now used is yet another indication that we are quickly absorbing America’s influence when it comes to Halloween. This is due in no small part to the fact that so many American films feature Halloween so heavily.
Games also feature heavily when it comes to celebrating Halloween in Ireland. Apple bobbing involves participants attempting to remove the fruit from a basin of water using only their teeth and is more difficult than it looks! Another traditional Halloween game involves hanging an apple from a string and attempting to take a bite without using your hands. Again, this sounds easier than it is in practice. Apples are used as they are of course a popular autumnal fruit. There are also several Halloween traditions which involve the telling of the future. One involves the peeling of an apple (apples feature heavily!) with the resulting skin thought to reveal the initial of the future spouse’s name when tossed over the shoulder. It is not known if this is a scientifically proven method of predicting the future but it is fun nonetheless. Barmbracks are another food traditionally eaten in Ireland at Halloween and another predictor of the future. This is a spiced bread containing dried fruit and also the hidden surprise of a ring. It is thought that the finder of the ring will soon be married.
Watching horror films is another common practice in Ireland at Halloween. This practice has replaced the telling of ghost stories which would have been popular in the time before televisions were commonplace in Irish homes. However, many Irish people today will still remember their grandmothers telling chilling tales each Halloween which were far more scary than any manufactured Hollywood blockbuster (because they were all true of course!) . Halloween movie parties are common in Ireland today and involve groups of friends coming together in costume to watch scary films or perhaps just to drink, dance and perhaps play a few games.
There is also a heightened interest in haunted attractions at this time of year. The Dublin based Ghost Tour and others will of course have added spook appeal at this time of year. Old castles and buildings are also increasingly organising events which are especially designed to give you a fright if you happen to be that way inclined.
Though Halloween in Ireland has evolved greatly from its ancient pagan roots, it is clear that there is still much evidence of the practices of the past. Children and adults alike look forward to this special and spooky time of the year when we feel a strong sense of our place in history, consider our links to our ancestors and also enjoy a little scare before bedtime!
Happy Halloween Day From Tryilo Team!