Halloween is one of the most popular celebrations in North America, but what about Halloween in Ireland? You may be surprised to know that the origin of Halloween was actually in Celtic Ireland, and Halloween, as we know it today, started out as a celebration called Samhain.
Samhain: The Origin of Halloween
Samhain, which is pronounced ‘sow-in’ took place on the evening of October 31stand was celebrated into the following day. It also had multiple facets to it. Samhain was, in a way, sort of like a New Year’s celebration. It marked the end of the pastoral season and the beginning of the long, cold winter ahead. However, this Celtic New Year celebration wasn’t just about the change of seasons. It was also believed that Samhain was when the spirits could visit earth; both the good spirits and the bad.
The good spirits, those of friends and family members, were thought to return to the home to see their loved ones. These spirits were honoured with cooked food and celebrations. The evil spirits, including banshees, puca, fairies, and shapeshifters needed to be avoided and placated. The Celts would wear masks and costumes to disguise themselves and keep safe from any evil spirits.
One of the most popular aspects of Samhain was the bonfire. Bonfires were thought to have protective and cleansing powers. All old flames had to be extinguished and new ones lit in a special ceremony conducted by the druids. It was also believed that this was the best time of year for druids to make predictions of the future.
Jack-o-lanterns also originated with Samhain. Legend tells of a man named Jack who cheated on a deal with the devil and when he died, was denied entry to both heaven and hell. All he had was a lump of coal to light his way, which he placed in a hollowed out turnip to use as a makeshift lantern.
If you look into more popular Irish myths, legends, and folklore, you will notice that Samhain comes up quite often with many important occurrences or meetings taking place at this time.
How Did Samhain Become Halloween?
Samhain, as indicated above, was a Celtic or pagan tradition that dates back thousands of years. Of course, Christianity came into play. In the 8th century, Samhain was changed to All Saints Day and the night before became All Hallow’s Eve which, over time, has become Halloween. While costumes were no longer considered necessary, the tradition of having them for this time of year stayed alive.
In the 1800s when the Irish emigrated to North America, they brought this custom with them. The tradition of wearing costumes stayed, though the making of jack-o-lanterns was altered slightly as pumpkins were larger and easier to carve than turnips. Not to mention the fact that the focus of Halloween today has become about fearing the dead and the so-called monsters rather than honouring the spirits of lost loved ones.
America commercialized Halloween, leaving many people thinking that it was an American tradition. However, there was no mention of Halloween in North America prior to Irish emigration in the 1800s leaving it very clear that the origin of Halloween is, in fact, Irish.
Halloween in Ireland Today
Halloween, as it is celebrated today: with costumes, trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving, and ghost stories, is more popular across Canada and the United States than it is anywhere else in the world. Including Ireland which is interesting as Ireland was the origin of Halloween. However, while it may not be quite as big of a party, Halloween does still play an important role in Ireland.
Halloween in Ireland is celebrated much the same as it is in North America with spooky decorations, costumes, and haunted tours. One of the best places to celebrate Halloween in Ireland is the city of Derry in Northern Ireland. Thousands of people come to Derry for the festival-style festival that takes place within the historic city’s medieval walls. Dublin also offers a big parade with a carnival type feel. Or, for something a little different you can check out Ireland’s most haunted castles. Malahide Castle near Dublin is said to be haunted by five ghosts and offers haunted tours during the Halloween season.
While most Irish celebrate this new version of Halloween, there are still some traditional Samhain celebrations around the country. Most notably in County Meath at The Hill of the Ward which is where Samhain originated. It is said that this is where the druids felt that our world was closest to the other world.
With thousands of years of history, celebrating Halloween in Ireland is definitely an event to remember.