Halloween Traditions in Ireland

To-day Halloween is celebrated all around the globe but the Halloween Holiday has its history firmly planted in Ireland.

About Halloween and how it started in Ireland

In Ireland, Halloween is also known as Samhain, All Hallows Eve, Hallowmas and Hallowtide. It is celebrated on 31st October but the holiday of Halloween is not just celebrated on the one day any more as the Christian holidays of All Saints Day, November 1st and All Souls Day, November 2nd are celebrated as well.

All Saints Day is the Christian festival when all saints known and unknown are commemorated and prayers are offered to them and special masses are said.

All Souls Day is the commemoration of the departed. In Ireland some faiths believe that when we die the soul has not been completely cleansed of our sins so on All Souls Day, prayers and masses are said to cleanse the souls of the dead so that they may pass into Heaven and not spend eternity in Purgatory.

The Celtic Year – Samhain

Long before Christianity arrived in Ireland Halloween was known as Samhain, this is because the Celtic year was divided into two the Brighthalf which is called Beltane and the Darkhalf which is called Samhain.

Beltane or in Irish is spelt Bealtaine begins at moonrise on 30th April, which is metaphysically understood to be the moment when the Earth’s generative and reproductive energies are at their peak. Pagan rituals were held on this day to enhance and increase the fertility of the land, people and the animals. Feasts were held to welcome the newly awakened Earth. Of course in Ireland this is the day that the Faeries and Leprechauns are out in force. To-day in some parts of rural Ireland these rituals are still carried out on Beltane but these traditional rituals are seen less and less as May Day is more widely celebrated.

Samhain translates to, “summers end” and Samhain marks the end of the Brighthalf and the beginning of the Darkhalf. The Ancient Celtic New Year starts at nightfall on October 31st and according to Irish tradition the barrows and mounds where the Sidhe dwell can open and they along with the dead can walk the Earth.

Irish Traditions Surrounding Halloween

Samhain also signals the end of the grazing season when only breeding animals are kept for the end of year slaughter. The harvest also has to be completed by this date; this has its roots in an old Irish tale that says if any crops are left out after November 1st they may be spoiled by the Faeries, although this may have been used to camouflage an even older belief that the crops left out after November 1st BELONGED to the Faeries and were no longer safe to touch.

According to legend Pagan sacrifices both human and animal took place in Ireland at this time but there is no evidence to support this.

The Old Irish deities the Dagda and the Morrigan consummate their relationship on Samhain and this is widely believed to aid the fertility of Ireland’s green luscious land for the coming year.

Where did Trick or Treat come from?

Many changes have taken place since the celebrations of Samhain and the introduction of Christianity played a huge part in that in Ireland.

The custom of ‘trick or treat’ was founded in Ireland when children and the poor went from door to door at Halloween and sang songs or offered prayers for the soul of the dead in return for food usually a soul cake which was a flattened bread that contained fruit, this tradition was known as ‘Souling’.

Why do people wear fancy dress on Halloween?

The custom of dressing up in costume comes from an old Celtic tradition when people used to dress in costumes that resembled evil spirits in order to placate them. At Halloween when the veil between the living and the dead is at it thinnest men would have dressed in white and blackened their faces to resemble the dead to acknowledge them and so appease them that they might not visit the homes of the living or if you were to meet a spirit on your travels they would accept you as one of their own and not be tempted to carry you away in the morning.

Where did Jack-O-Lantern come from?

The Jack-O-Lantern to-day is usually carved out of a Pumpkin; this has been passed over from America but in days long ago the Irish would have used a vegetable typically a turnip or swede as these would have been widely available and this tradition was taken to America along with the Irish immigrants.

The origin of carving Jack-O-Lanterns is unclear but an old Irish folk tale tells of Stingy Jack a lazy Irish Blacksmith who tricks the Devil and traps him using a cross and refuses to free him until the Devil agrees not to take his soul when he dies.

Many years later Jack dies and because he was lazy and no good during his life he is refused entry to Heaven so he turns to the Devil who will not back down on his promise and refuses to take his soul distraught Jack cries out that he has no light to see his way through the darkness of eternity and laughing the Devil throws him a flame that has come directly from Hell and will never extinguish so Jack is forced to carve a lantern out of a turnip that he may find his way as he wanders the Earth for all Eternity, he became known as Jack of the Lantern or Jack-O-Lantern.

How is Halloween Celebrated in Ireland To-day?

To-day Halloween is a holiday devoted to fun and pranks, feasting and dressing up and of course trick or treating.

It is not unusual to see houses in Ireland decked out in all manner of decorations from ghosts and witches to Vampires and Banshees.

A growing trend here in Ireland is to have a Halloween tree, not unlike a Christmas tree but it is black and has all types of Halloween creepy crawlies attached to it.

Children will run from door to door, dressed in wonderful colourful costumes from evil witches to nasty little hobgoblins all shouting, “trick or treat” and they will receive sweets, fruit or nuts so ensuring that the house will be safe from any tricks the children wish to play.

What Do The Irish Eat At Halloween?

Traditionally Halloween was a day that feasts were held and this tradition has not died out. Although in Ireland Halloween used to be a time of abstinence when no meat was eaten so foods that were typically eaten would have been home made Apple Pies and of course Toffee Apples but first you would have Colcannon, Potato Farls and not forgetting Barmbrack which is a bread that contains fruit, a slice of which has to be left outside before you go to bed so that any passing Faeries or Spirits may feast as well and bestow good luck upon your household. Many of these dishes would contain a coin as a ‘lucks penny’ which the finder kept safe and fortune would follow them in the coming year.

These customs carry on to-day and these foods are still typically eaten although the not eating of meat is no longer observed and Irish Stew is a common dish to feast on before heading out into the cold to watch the fireworks and go trick or treating.

All this food would need washed down and an old drink that was drunk is called Lambswool. The name Lambswool is believed to be a corruption of the Irish Gaelic, “La Mas Nbhal” meaning ‘Feast of the Apples’, it was pronounced “Lammas-ool” and this eventually evolved into Lambswool. Various recipes exist for this drink but the bases of it are: Roasted crushed apples, which are added to milk, hot spiced ale, cider and or wine. Sugar is then added according to taste. Bits of toast can be added if desired.

After all this feasting the adults usually party on into the ‘wee small hours’ while the children go upstairs to terrify each other with tales of wailing Banshees and ghosts that walk the corridors of their schools and all things creepy and scary that go bump in the night.