Halloween is celebrated all over the world and is a really big deal in some places, but you don’t need to travel too far out of the UK to discover the home of Halloween; to find the origin you have to look to the festival of Samhain in Ireland's Celtic past.
Samhain was an important fire festival, celebrated over the evening of 31 October and throughout the following day where the flames of old fires had to be extinguished and ceremonially re-lit by druids.
It was also the last day of the year, the time when the souls of the departed were thought to return to their former homes and when potentially malevolent spirits were released from the ‘Otherworld’ and were visible to mankind.
Whatever you believe Halloween to be (perhaps just an excuse for some dress up fun and games?) its nice to remember the roots of this celebration.
Below are the top 10 Irish Halloween traditions that are still alive and kicking today.
Traditionally the community would gather together and light huge fires to ward off bad fortune for the coming year and any evil spirits. You’ll certainly still find this happening around Ireland today.
Some people would extinguish their fires in the hearth at home before they left and would reignite them using an ember from the community bonfire for good luck.
If you visit Ireland during Halloween you will be sure to find Colcannon on the menu.
This is the traditional dinner to have on Halloween night before you head out for whatever spooky plans you have. It is a simple dish made with boiled potatoes, curly kale and raw onions.
Traditionally coins were wrapped in pieces of paper and hidden in children’s colcannon for them to find and keep. People also used to hide a ring in the colcannon - whoever found the ring would supposedly be married within the year.
Along the same lines as the pumpkins that we all carve and pop a candle in, the Irish carry a Jack-o-lantern about.
Some would say that this tradition came about when (as above) people would carry a burning ember from the community fire back to their own houses in a scooped out turnip.
However others believe that the Jack-o-lantern dates back to the 18th century when Jack, an Irish Blacksmith colluded with the Devil and was denied entry into heaven. He was supposedly made to walk the earth forever-more but asked the devil for some light and was given burning coal which he put into a hollowed out turnip or pumpkin, hence the Jack-o-lantern.
Another food that you’ll find in Ireland around Halloween time is the Barnbrack, a traditional Irish Halloween cake which is a sweet bread with fruit through it as well as some other treats.
Shop-bought barmbracks usually contain a ring but many people like to make their own at home and hide lots of fun things inside. All of the family gets a slice and each prize has a different meaning.
The Irish were firm believers in fairies and goblins who collect souls as they trawl the earth on Halloween night.
The tradition goes that if you threw dust from under your feet at the fairy they would release any souls they kept captive.
6.Trick or Treat
Famous the world over, trick or treating is also a tradition in Ireland.
Years ago in Ireland the poor would go from door to door asking for food, kindling or money. They would then use what they collected for their celebrations on Halloween.
These days you’ll mostly find children dressed up and trick or treating for sweets, just like in other parts of the world.
8.Shaving the Friar
An old Halloween game that was played throughout Ireland, but particularly in County Meath was called ‘Shave the Friar’.
Basically a pile of ash is put down in the shape of a cone with a piece of wood sticking out of the top. Each player takes turns trying to dig the largest amount of ash without the pile collapsing.
Whilst the games goes on the players all chat ‘Shave the poor Friar to make him a liar, cut off his beard to make him afeard, if the Friar will fall, my poor back pays for all’ !
One of the more unusual traditions, but tradition none the less!
Another popular game played on Halloween night is Snap Apple.
An apple is suspended from a string and the players are blindfolded and have their hands behind their backs. The first person to get a decent bite of their apple wins.
As with all Irish tradition there is always meaning behind the games and here the apples are associated with love and fertility. It is said that whoever gets the first bite will be first to marry.