The Origins of Halloween

Posted on October 31, 2016

Halloween History

Halloween is thought to have originated in Ireland & Scotland when the Celtic people celebrated the Ancient Festival of Samhain. The Pagan Festival of Samhain (summer’s end) was held around the end of October to mark the end of the summer months, the harvest and the beginning of winter.

It was also a time to ward off evil spirits and a time to remember the dead, including saints (hallows) and martyrs. Bonfires were lit as their flames and ashes were deemed to have protective powers to ward off the evil spirits and the devil.  

The festival also included going from house to house in costume (disguise) reciting songs or verses in exchange for food. Wearing of the disguise was also thought to protect the wearer from the evil spirits and if the household donated food they could expect good fortune in return.

The traditional lantern used by the “guisers” to light their way as they were going from house to house, was a carved out turnip with a candle in it. Often the turnip would be hollowed out with grotesque faces, which was also thought to represent the spirits.


Halloween Today

Halloween Today

Today’s Halloween is thought to have been influenced by Christian practices. In the eight century Pope Gregory IV officially named 1st November as All Saints Day.  It was a Christian tradition to hold a vigil the night before and this was called Hallow’s eve. It is thought that the Scottish later named it Hallow ‘een.

Halloween remained a Celtic and Christian tradition for centuries and was celebrated by the Irish, Scottish and Welsh Celts. 

It is thought that these Celtic Immigrants brought their Halloween tradition with them when they landed in the United States of America in the 1700’s and 1800’s. Halloween is now a huge event all over the United States and has influenced many of the best horror films ever made.

Halloween Abroad

In America, the pumpkin was used instead of a turnip to make the Lanterns as there were more available and much easier to carve and this in turn has crossed back over to Europe. (Imagine trying to hollow out a turnip!)

Today, Halloween is a child centred, family and community based event, with less of the evil sinister connotations of the olden days, and is characterised by child friendly games, activities, dressing up in costumes, trick or treating, apple bobbing, making sticky toffee apples, attending supervised bonfires and firework displays. Some of us who grew up in the seventies and eighties might remember having colcannon for dinner (curly kale and mashed potato) with a coin hidden in it, (I know, how unhealthy!) or hoping to find the ring in the Barm Brack. 

Stay safe and have a very Happy Halloween.  

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