Happy Halloween! People all over the world celebrate this spooky, autumnal holiday, but did you know that Halloween originated in Ireland? We sure didn’t!
It all started with an unlikely new year’s eve celebration: a pagan religious festival called Samhain (pronounced “sow-win”), where celebrants began the harvest and welcomed the beginning of the dark, cold seasons that were associated with death. Thus, on the night of Samhain and just before the new year, Celt’s believed that the boundaries between the living and the dead became harder to define as the dead returned to the Earth as ghosts or spirits. Celebrants of Samhain would let whatever fire was in their hearths burn out while they gathered their harvest, later relighting them with a flame from the festival’s huge community fire. To ward off the spirits, this fire also served as a vessel to sacrifice crops and animals to Celtic deities.
Nearly 2,000 years later, the tradition of Halloween has changed but not as much as you might assume. Ireland and Scotland still celebrate on October 31st with bonfires, games, and traditional foods. Among the most popular is barmbrack, an Irish fruitcake. This unconventional fruitcake contains coins, buttons, and rings for fortunetelling. For example, rings predict marriage, while coins could indicate wealth.
It may not be the mark of a new year and we now have electricity to help us with the dark months, but the macabre nature of Halloween is clear and runs deep in the history of this fascinating cultural celebration. Oíche Shamhna sona!