Halloween and its Origins

Halloween and its Origins

Many people don’t realise that the Halloween traditions we celebrate today came from the Celtic  festival of “Samhain” which means  “end of summer”. Samhain was one of the two main festivals of the year with Bealtaine which is on the 1st of May marking the start of summer.  By celebrating Samhain we are celebrating the start of the Celtic year and the end of the old year and the harvest!

But where did Halloween come from?  Well it is thought that the traditions came from Samhain and that the early Christian church adopted some of the traditions

Halloween was also known as,All Hallows’ Eve”, or “All Saints’ Eve”.  Hollow was often used as for a Saint in the Christian church (you often hear of churches being on sacred or “hallowed” ground) and all Hallows’ Eve refers to the day before the 1st of November which is called All Saints Day in the Christian calendar.

Halloween and its Origins

Some of the traditions that we have at Halloween

Bobbing for apples

A very popular game, even for our Celtic cousins who were overly infatuated with the future, bobbing for apples was thought that you could find out the identity of your future husband or wife! Bobbing for apples or snap apple (where you tie an apple to a string and blindfolded while trying to take a bite out of the suspended apple).  The first person to get a bite out of the apple would marry first.  These days you get a prize (probably better off too!).

Halloween and its Origins

Jack O Lantern

There are two stories behind the origins of the Jack O Lantern.  One is where our Celtic forefathers carried home an ember from the communal bonfire in a hollowed out a turnip so they could walk home with the fire still burning.

But the other version is a little scarier and dates back to the 18th century. Seemingly the Jack O Lantern is named after an Irish blacksmith, called Jack, who was denied entry into Heaven. He was condemned to walk the earth for all eternity but asked the devil for some light.  The devil gave him a burning coal which he put into a hollowed out turnip so that he could see his way as he wandered through eternity. People believed that hanging a lantern in their front window would keep Jack’s wandering soul away.  Irish emigrants to America adapted the tradition and used a pumpkin!

The image shown is from the Irish Museum of Country Life in Turlough House Co Mayo.

Barnbrack (Bairín Breac)

Always a popular cake the Barnbrack could tell you your future!  The brack was backed with objects placed inside and if you got one of these in your piece of brack then that was supposed to be an insight into your future!  There was a ring, which means marriage, a coin for wealth, a rag symbolising poverty and a thimble suggested that you would be an old maid!

Trick or Treat

This was where the people of the towns or villages would go from door to door asking for anything that they could use for the Halloween celebrations.  This could have been in the form of food or wood for the bonfire. Today kids go from door to door and get tonnes of sweets!

The Bonfire

Halloween (or as we should say, Samhain) was the one day of the year when spirits could walk the earth. The town of village would gather together and light huge fires to ward off bad fortune and evil spirits for the coming year.  The custom was to make sure that your fire at home was out before leaving for the Bonfire and festivities and before you got home you would take a piece of the bonfire to relight your home fire bringing you good luck for the year ahead.

Another tradition was to throw a piece of your hair into the bonfire and that night you would dream of your future husband or wife.

Halloween and its Origins

Picking cabbage blindfolded

This is where local girls would go out into the field blindfolded and pull up the first cabbage they could find. If there was a lot of clay on the cabbage root it was said that their future husband would have money. Then they had to eat the cabbage to find out if their future husband was going to be bitter or sweet!

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